Northampton tightens tobacco regs, despite objections

  • Massachusetts Municipal Association attorney D.J. Wilson addresses the city's Board of Health during a meeting on Thursday. —Amanda Drane

  • Following a public hearing, the city's Board of Health unanimously approved stricter tobacco regulations during a meeting on Thursday. —Amanda Drane

  • Following a public hearing, the city's Board of Health unanimously approved stricter tobacco regulations during a meeting on Thursday. —Amanda Drane

@amandadrane
Published: 9/16/2016 12:50:14 AM

By AMANDA DRANE

@amandadrane

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s Board of Health joined several others across the state on Thursday by passing policies aimed at curbing smoking habits, particularly among youth.

Though convenience and specialty store owners voiced opposition during a public hearing before the vote, board members unanimously approved the three amendments to the city’s tobacco regulation: one prohibiting sale of tobacco products to people under 21, another banning the sale of flavored tobacco products outside of tobacco shops and a third decreasing the number of available “tobacco and nicotine delivery product permits” from 36 to 28.

The new policies will take effect on Jan. 1.

In order to sell flavored products, including the increasingly popular flavored e-juice for vapes, shop owners must first obtain a tobacconist permit from the board. These permits are issued only to owners of stores whose primary products are tobacco, nicotine delivery products and associated paraphernalia. No one under 21 is allowed in such shops, per the board’s ruling on Thursday.

This, said store owners during the hearing, unfairly targets convenience stores.

“I propose a better way to do this,” said Gaurang Patel, owner of Bird’s Store in Florence, suggesting flavored products be kept out of sight at shops like his and only revealed once someone has provided acceptable identification. “Then we could actually keep our business going.”

Board chairwoman Joanne Levin said she was intrigued by the idea, but Massachusetts Municipal Association attorney D.J. Wilson said it opened the city up for lawsuits.

“This is looking unfair,” said Saadat Virk, owner of Smith Corner Convenience. “We’re already having a lot of issues.”

Store owners, who left angrily once the measures passed, told the board that they’re not improving anything, that their customers will simply patronize other shops in perhaps other towns and states.

“It will hurt a lot of businesses that are providing a service to adults,” said Adam Hazel, owner of the Vault on Main Street, of his ability to sell flavored e-juices and other flavored products.

Others, however, spoke in favor of the amendments.

Riley DiPillo spoke during the hearing, first introducing himself — believably — as an 18-year-old. Moments later, he told the board he’s actually 14.

“It’s easier to pass as 18 than 21,” he said.

Local activists said flavored tobacco products target kids and therefore, through a “graduation strategy,” set them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“These new flavored tobacco products have caused a bump in use in youth,” said Melinda Calianos, director of the Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.

Heather Warner of the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth Coalition said she’s seen an “impressive increase” in youth vaping. She urged the board to think critically about who these products are targeting.

She said: “I think the time has come for tobacco products.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.




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