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Amherst preparing new tobacco regulations

A public hearing on “Restricting the Sale and Use of Tobacco Products and Nicotine Delivery Products,” regulations endorsed by the Board of Health, will take place June 19 at 7:05 p.m. in Room 101 at the Bangs Community Center.

Health Director Julie Federman said board members have been crafting the revisions both as a way to enhance the general health of the population and ensure children are not taking up smoking.

“A lot of this is looking at youth. Youth smoking rates have risen some,” Federman said.

The most dramatic change that the public would see is that any stores with health care institutions inside them, specifically with pharmacies and counters where drugs are dispensed, would no longer be able to sell tobacco.

“That means anything that has a pharmacy. Here, that would affect CVS,” Federman said.

Amherst has CVS pharmacy stores on North Pleasant Street downtown and on University Drive. Many other communities in the state have already adopted similar bans, which began in 2009 in Boston.

The health board has issued 21 retail tobacco permits, with the new regulations creating a cap of 23 permits. This will allow new businesses an opportunity to sell tobacco should they choose, Federman said.

The regulations, though, set a procedure for retiring permits as they expire, with the goal to eventually reduce the number of places in the community where tobacco is available.

There would be a set minimum package size for cigars and price for individual cigars. According to the draft regulations, “no retailer, retail establishment or other individual or entity shall sell, distribute or cause to be sold or distributed a cigar unless the cigar is contained in an original package of at least four cigars.” One exception is for cigars priced at $2.50 or more.

The idea, Federman said, is to limit the appeal of cigars to youth, who are trying certain types of cigars.

“The little cigars are very inexpensive and come in fruit flavors,” Federman said.

Blunt wraps, which contain tobacco, would be banned from sale at all Amherst stores.

The rules would also explicitly mandate that cessation signs be placed in all stores. This means information about how people can quit, such as local classes aimed at combating nicotine addiction.

The health board received assistance from the state and the regional tobacco coalition for Hampshire and Franklin counties in putting together the revised rules.

“All of these have come from the state’s model regulations,” Federman said.

Cheryl Sbarra, a senior staff attorney with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, and Mary Kersell, a representative from the Hampshire Public Health Preparedness Coalition, participated in meetings earlier this spring.

Federman said once the board votes on regulations, which could come sometime in the summer, it will be 45 days to two months before they would go into effect. This would give time for the health board to send letters to stores that will be affected by the changes.

Copies of the proposed regulations are available at the health department offices at the Bangs Center as well as on the town website.

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