By Sue Ellen Woodcock
Those for and against the Board of Health raising the tobacco buying age to 21 got a chance to state their positions Tuesday night at a public hearing held at the EB Newton School.
For the last several months, the Board of Health has been working on the town’s smoking regulations, which were last updated in 2015.
Board of Health members Bill Schmidt and Susan Maguire, hosted the public hearing which was attended by about 20 people, including lobbyists and Winthrop shop owners. One owner has only owned his store for a month.
“If I had known about this I would have never bought,” said Wael Tawfik, who owns D&T Market at 291 Shirley St.
“Seventy percent of the commonwealth has adopted age 21,” said Dr. Lester Hartman, a pediatrician from Needham, the first community in the nation to raise the tobacco buying age to 21, was the first to speak in favor of the proposed regulations. “We have a 161 towns so far who raised the age to 21. Nicotine is the most addictive substance we have right now.
He showed an array of cigarillos, dip, and vape pens. The vape pen Juul looks like a wifi device when charging via USB on a laptop. The cartridge portion of the device looks like a thumb drive.
“The products indict themselves,” Hartman said.
Dennis Lane from Coalition of Responsible Retailers, who owns a 7-Eleven store in Qunicy, said his goal is to make retailers responsible. He delivered the board with a 600-page document with articles that support his position.
“I can’t risk selling to minors to lose regular business,” Lane said. He added that 60 percent of his milk buyers also buy cigarettes. Lane also cited the other things allowed at 18 years of age …military service, purchase a lottery ticket and vote.
In his opinion banning of flavored tobacco products doesn’t work. He pointed out that in Andover there has been an increase in kids who are vaping. The same problem was noted in Marshfield.
“As a retailer for 44 years, I am a gatekeeper. Those who can’t keep it out of the hands of young people should be fined and lose their permit,” he said.
He stressed the similarity between alcohol and tobacco, and pointed out the alcohol laws include possession. It is not illegal for a young person to possess tobacco.
“And soon you’ll be dealing with marijuana,” Lane said.
DJ Wilson, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said all of this is about selling product and selling as much as possible.
“In fact Phillip Morris is releasing a new product to the FDA,” Wilson said. “I feel the reason many people are against raising the age is to make as much money as they can for themselves and the tobacco industry and the shareholders.”
Other regulations under consideration would include tobacco permits could not be issued to any business within 500 feet of a school (the one shop in town that falls within these limits will be grandfathered — any future new owners would not be.); no permits within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer; restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult only retail tobacco stores.
The regulations would also ban the sale of blunt wraps (often used by marijuana users); and no sales of tobacco in health-care institutions, including pharmacies (Again there is one pharmacy in town that does sell tobacco, and they would be grandfathered.) There are pricing changes for cigar sales.
Bonny Carroll, director of the Six City Tobacco Initative, said she supports the regulations. She said the arguments for flavored alcohol products and flavored tobacco products are not the same and should not be made.
“This is a very serious matter being taken up tonight,” said resident Nick Tsiotis. “We have a problem with vaping at the high school. This is probably one of our most serious problems. According to the FDA, 70 percent of smokers support raising the age.”
One proponent cited the impact smoking has on the mental and physical fitness. It was also cited that $1.6 billion is spent annually on tobacco-related healthcare.
Nicholas John, with the think tank R-Street Institute. said he was at the meeting to urge the board to consider e-cigarettes and vaping products as an alternative to tobacco. He said his organization is promoting “tobacco harm reduction.”
Nisarg Patel, owner of the Quick Food shop at 490 Shirley St., said, “As a retail store, I have no issue changing the age limit.” Cigarettes are bad and raising the age to 21 is the right thing to do. However, 18 percent get cigarettes from convenience stores that means 82 percent get them from friends or an older brother. You hurt the retailers when you are trying to make sure it doesn’t get in the wrong hands.”
Chelsea and Boston have banned “flavors.”
He’s against having “flavors” in adult-only tobacco stores. He said a lot of his customers are adults who quit smoking cigarettes and turned to vaping.
People can remark on the proposed regulations until Jan. 31. Comments can be mailed to the Board of Health, 100 Kennedy Drive, Winthrop, MA 02151.
The next meeting for the Board of Health is Feb. 27 when they may vote on the changes to the regulations.