No local opponents attend hearing on proposed new Amherst tobacco regulations, including raising minimum age to buy

Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2015

AMHERST — The Board of Health is poised to adopt new tobacco regulations next month, including raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, after receiving no local opposition to the changes at a hearing Thursday.

Other communities that recently raised the tobacco-buying age to 21, including Greenfield and Montague, have done so after hearing from local people at crowded public hearings. But no residents or local business owners attended Thursday’s public hearing in Amherst to offer comments on the proposed regulations.

The lack of response came as a surprise to board members, including chairwoman Nancy Gilbert, who said she was shocked at the turnout.

“Apparently not that much interest to the citizens of town,” said board member John Tobiason.

Only three people attended the hearing — Ken Farbstein, a patient advocate and author of a book about addiction; Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards; and Mary Kersell, tobacco control coordinator for the Substance & Tobacco Prevention Partnership of Franklin & Hampshire counties.

“Going to 21 would save hundreds of thousands of lives over the next two decades,” Farbstein said.

Sbarra spoke about the dangers of e-juice, reflecting on accidentally spilling contents of a cartridge used in electronic cigarettes on her hand. “They’re not regulated, so we don’t know what’s in them.” Sbarra said.

The board received several letters in support and just one opposing the new regulations, and that came from the Duffy Law Offices in Glendale, Arizona, stating it represented the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.

The revised “Regulations of the Amherst Board of Health Restricting the Sale of Tobacco Products” would make Amherst one of more than 50 communities in Massachusetts to raise the age for purchasing tobacco.

Studies have shown that young smokers more easily become addicted to smoking, said Heath Director Julie Federman.

“They’ve found that youth who start smoking go on to become lifelong smokers,” Federman said.

The next discussion by the board, and likely its vote, is scheduled for May 14. It is uncertain when the new rules would take effect, although likely prior to September when college students return for the fall semester, Gilbert said.

Besides raising the minimum age for sales, the proposed changes also would allow the health board to regulate any non-regulated nicotine delivery in the same way as tobacco, set a minimum price of $5 for packs containing two or more cigars, prohibit sale of tobacco by stores within 500 feet of a school and ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including the e-juice cartridges used in e-cigarettes, by package stores and convenience stores.

Federman said stores focused on tobacco sales and products, such as Exscape and Wild Side smoke shops, are exempt from the prohibition on sale of flavored tobacco products because they will have signs posted on their doors not allowing anyone under 21 inside. The intent is to discourage children who might find flavored tobacco attractive.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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