Health Board Favors Raising Tobacco Purchase Age, But Nixes Other Restrictions

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Health

Teenage smoker.

HARWICH — After several months of review, discussions with retail distributors and consideration of broader restrictions on the sale of tobacco products, the board of health will be proposing new regulations in a public hearing next month containing just one major change: an increase from 18 to 21 in the legal age to purchase tobacco products.

Health Director Paula Champagne said there were a number of additional changes in a working draft approved in February, but the board opted to reject them. The additional restrictions included a ban on blunt wrapped cigars and flavored tobacco products.

The health board held a public hearing in April at which Robert Collett of the Cape Cod Tobacco Control Program, operated out of the Barnstable County Health and Environment department, cited the absence of his group's participation in the shaping of the new regulations. The board agreed to conduct another session on May 9 at which Collett and DJ Wilson from the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards were in attendance. Board of Health Chairman Dr. Robert Insley said at the time that Collett informed the board of the various regulatory options available for the sale of tobacco products.

Wilson sought to encourage the board to include minimum cigar package size and price, restrict flavored tobacco products and increase the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 year of age. There was support for considering these provisions from at least one member of the health board and they were included in the latest draft of the new regulations, which Champagne said also included a ban on blunt wrapped cigars and single cigar sales for products costing less than $2.50 each.

The board, however, opted to only include the age increase.

“These items are in the model regulations and they felt strongly it would limit the access to use,” Champagne said.

There was opposition to the regulations from some of the licensed retail tobacco sales stores in town, Champagne said. In a board of health meeting last Tuesday, Insley said they would be discussing what they want in the proposal going forward.

“I like the original draft,” board member Frank Boyle said. “I respect the other, but feel they are reaching.”

Boyle said raising the age to 21 would provide a great deal of benefit to the community. Member Pam Howell concurred with Boyle, and the board as a whole rejected the tobacco control program's recommendations.

Champagne said the next step for the board will be preparation of the final draft and setting a public hearing. She said the draft will be sent to all licensed tobacco retailers in town before the hearing, which will be on July 11.

“Raising the age to 21 and strict enforcement is the key,” Dennis Lane, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Retail Tobacco Sales said of the decision. “Banning products is contrary to free enterprise.”