Local bans on e-cigarette sales to minors attempt to address issue of rising use among youth

Last modified: Friday, December 06, 2013
EASTHAMPTON — Standing behind the counter of his electronic cigarette store, Vapers Haven, co-owner David Lucchesi said he has never sold the smokeless nicotine delivery products to minors, even though it was technically legal during his first month of business.

He and his wife, Eva-Maye Lucchesi, opened the Union Street shop a month before the city’s Board of Health’s ban on sales to minors took effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

“We’ve had that policy since the day we opened,” he said. “I have a 15-year-old son and I wouldn’t want someone making that decision for him.”

Easthampton and 12 other communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties have made it illegal to sell non-tobacco, nicotine-delivery products to children under 18 because they are addictive and may lead to tobacco use. However, children can still buy them in 75 percent of communities in the state.

“It’s a frightening idea,” said Tami Gouveia, executive director of Tobacco Free Massachusetts. “I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old and in communities across the state, they could go into a store and buy an e-cigarette. And depending on whose behind the counter, they might sell it to them.”

The Hampshire and Franklin county communities with age restrictions in place are Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton, South Hadley, Hatfield, Deerfield, Sunderland, Greenfield, Buckland, Gill, Montague, Shelburne, and Wendell.

Gouveia said that in other communities, some vendors may choose to have a policy of not selling e-cigarettes to minors. But she hopes legislators pass a bill they’re considering that would make it illegal throughout the state. Anything that can be done to counter the increasing e-cigarette use in youth is a good thing, she said.

“Nationwide, the use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students has doubled in the last year,” she said.

E-cigarette use in general is increasing, she said, but there are several reasons that youths are especially picking up the habit.

Michele Komosa, director of the Tobacco Free Community Partnership for Hampshire and Franklin Counties, pointed out that e-cigarettes are available in flavors such as bubble gum, sweet tart and cotton candy.

While it’s hard to imagine an adult enjoying one of those flavors, “If you’re a kid, that’s appealing,” she said. “It’s definitely geared toward kids.”

Mary Kersell, coordinator of the Franklin-Hampshire Substance and Tobacco Prevention Partnership, said that youth are more likely to be able to afford e-cigarettes now as much cheaper kinds have hit the shelves.

“They used to cost around $100 when they first came out,” she said, and the cartridges to refill the devices were also expensive. Now some are available at gas stations for under $10, she said. “Introducing flavors and dropping the price are typical ways to market to youth.”

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes have also launched advertising campaigns that, like the Marlboro man or Joe Camel ads of old, try to make the devices seem cool. While advertising tobacco products on television and radio was outlawed in 1970, it is perfectly legal to air ads for e-cigarettes.

“It undoes all the work we’ve done for years to prevent smoking in young people,” Komosa said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.