Northampton Board of Health will discuss raising tobacco age to 21 tonight

  • Keith Hazel of Shop Therapy in Northampton —GAZETTE STAFF/Amanda Levenson

For the Gazette
Published: 9/15/2016 1:07:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Board of Health is having a public hearing Thursday evening on banning tobacco sales in the city to anyone under 21.

Meanwhile, Keith Hazel, who has worked at Shop Therapy on Main Street since it opened four years ago, said their business is already being hurt by the proposal.

“They’re complaining about store fronts being empty, but they’re making it less desirable to come to town,” said Hazel, referring to town officials.

The meeting, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the second-floor hearing room at City Hall, will cover the following proposals:

· Increasing the minimum tobacco purchase age to 21

· Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine to a tobacconist

· Reducing the number of tobacco-sale permits from 37 to 26

The measures would also prohibit individuals under the age of 21 from entering tobacco shops in the city.

“It is a promising strategy to reduce smoking among the youth,” said Merridith O’Leary, the director of public health in Northampton.

If passed, O’Leary recommends that the rules take effect Jan. 1. She says this would give merchants the time necessary to reduce their inventory.

The director says she believes the ban on flavored tobacco may prove to be the most controversial.

“I think we’re going to have a mixed review tonight. There will be some youth champions with their peers supporting it, and some not supporting it because they smoke flavored tobacco,” said O’Leary.

Smoke shop employees like Hazel are some of the opposition.

Hazel said people have come into the shop expressing disappointment, and have even yelled at him about the proposed changes, even though he’s on their side. They’re also afraid to buy tobacco products because of uncertainty about the future of local laws.

“They’re not young kids; they’re young adults. They choose to smoke their tobacco a certain way, and you’re telling them ‘no,’” said Hazel.

“It’s just making adults upset. People who vote, people who pay taxes, people who are in the armed forces,” he added.

The shop’s main demographic in town is 18 to 25, according to Hazel, and he said that imposing these regulations will only chase those customers elsewhere. Northampton will lose business, and people will find what they want in surrounding areas.

Hazel said these measures will just make younger age groups put themselves at risk to get the products they desire. They could be drawn to dangerous areas if what they want isn’t Main Street.

“When have people ever stopped the youth from doing what they want to do?” he said.

The Shop Therapy employee will be at the hearing Thursday evening to voice his opinion, even though he hasn’t felt heard at meetings in the past, he said.

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