HARWICH — Voters will be asked in the annual town meeting to approve a petitioned article to amend a board of health regulation to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products. The initiative is the work of Monomoy Regional High School students involved in Project Citizen.
Project Citizen is part of the eighth grade civic curriculum in which identify social problems and propose means to address them. A couple of weeks ago Project Citizen students Declan Russell, Courteney Dery and Alexa Long stood before selectmen asking the board to endorse another petitioned article seeking to ban single-use plastic straws in town to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.
Last Tuesday Project Citizen students Sara Roza and Edrian Wright were before the board of health seeking support for a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, defined in the proposed article as any tobacco product or component part thereof that contains a constituent that has or produces a characterizing flavor.
The students pointed out the towns of Brewster, Orleans and Yarmouth have already instituted bans and 148 communities across the commonwealth have also done so.
The finance committee's recommendation on the article is indefinite postponement. The recommendation points out health regulations should come from the board of health and not citizen petitions. The wording of the article did not pass legal review by town counsel, according to the finance committee. Its recommendation further requests that the petitioners to bring the measure to the health board.
They did so last week. Wright explained the initiative is part of Project Citizen and he and Roza spoke to the tobacco industry's targeting of younger people between 13 and 18 years of age with advertising campaigns related to flavored tobacco products and how that has accelerated the use through vaping devices such as Juul. Roza said menthol and mint flavors as very attractive to the students.
“It's an epidemic,” she said, referring to the large increase in use among school-age students who are also attracted to mango flavored products. The students said vaping has the potential to cause long-term brain damage, heart damage and memory loss. They said vaping has grown in popularity over the past couple of years and young people do not understand the long-term effects.
Roza said a survey was conducted at the school and 64 percent of the students are scared to use the bathrooms because of student vaping. Wright said if caught with vaping devices there is a week suspension, but students hide the devices in their shoes and pockets.
Roza said 17 percent of the eighth grade class have used a Juul type device and 60 percent of students school wide have done so.
While the age for access to tobacco has been increased to 21, the students said IDs are not always checked and there are older people who will buy for students, the students said. Health Department Director Meggan Eldredge pointed out the devices can also be purchased through the internet with a Visa gift card.
Board of Health member Dr. Matthew Cushing concurred with the students about the long-term impacts and said there are 20 to 25 chemicals used in vaping products. This is an issue that not just impacts kids, but adults as well, he said, questioning if vaping is returning people who have quit back to smoking nicotine products again. That was a question the students could not answer.
“I'd support banning the sale,” Cushing said, adding the popularity is increasing exponentially.
Health board members praised the presentation by the students, but with two members of the health board not in attendance, acting chairman Frank Boyle held off on taking any action.
Eldredge told The Chronicle the board considered the flavored tobacco issue in 2017 when it amended the tobacco sale and use regulations and increased the minimum age to buy the products from 18 to 21 years of age. At that time the board decided not to include a ban.
But the health board has agreed to revisit the sale of flavored tobacco issue once again. Eldredge said they will conduct a public hearing on the issue on Monday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at town hall. Eldredge also said the board will conduct a public hearing on banning smoking on public beaches and recreational areas in town on that evening.