Jon Shaer: Northampton health board should back off extremism

  • Mian Azhar, the manager of King Street Convenience and Smoke Shop in Northampton, gets David Kris a pack of cigarettes in October 2017. gazette file photo

Published: 1/12/2020 5:01:01 PM
Modified: 1/12/2020 5:00:18 PM
Northampton health board should back off extremism

Authority-hungry members of the Northampton Board of Health are unreasonably targeting Northampton adults’ rights to decide which legal products they can and cannot buy in the city.

The all-volunteer board, appointed by Mayor David Narkewicz and confirmed by the City Council, is planning to restrict all tobacco products to adult-only stores at their Jan. 16 meeting. There is just one adult-only store in Northampton. Consequently, the health board is impinging an adult’s right to readily access legal adult products, risking outside litigation at significant taxpayer expense, and severely endangering the local convenience store’s viability.

Hiding behind the claim of protecting youth, the board is charging forward with desperate, first-in-state extremism. But the products youth are using — flavored vapes — have already been banned in Massachusetts. The state even went a step further by banning menthol and mint traditional tobacco products effective June 1, 2020.

The only tobacco products that remain on shelves of Northampton convenience stores are non-flavored traditional tobacco products which, the public health data proves, are adult-preferred products.

Furthermore, local data proves Northampton convenience stores do an exemplary job at keeping tobacco products out of the hands of youth. At the last Board of Health hearing, we presented publicly available Food and Drug Administration compliance data which showed 100% compliance by convenience stores since 2017.

In fact, the only violation occurred at an adult-only store in town — the very store the Board of Health wants to entrust with more responsibility. Upon the conclusion of that meeting, a board member smugly challenged the FDA data, saying it was “wrong” and their local compliance data “shows far worse compliance.” This is false. The data provided by the Board of Health showed convenience stores earned a 95.7% compliance rate. Hardly far worse.

It is perfectly acceptable to dislike tobacco, but personal bias, and a disregard of facts has no place in government lawmaking. This unjust regulation puts Northampton convenience stores and the adult customers they serve in jeopardy. Those who are indifferent because they are not a tobacco or nicotine user should remember it may only be a matter of time before a liberty they do care about is stripped away simply because someone in government thinks they know what’s best.

Jon Shaer

The writer is the executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.

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