HARWICH — The board of health has approved regulations to curtail access to flavored tobacco products, including for e-cigarettes, allowing their sale only in three adult-only retail tobacco shops that will be permitted to operate in town.
Harwich joins several other Cape towns, including Chatham, in banning flavored tobacco products in general retail outlets.
The new health regulations allow a maximum of 16 tobacco product sale permits to be issued to retail stores in town. Health Department Director Meggan Eldredge said retail stores will be allowed to continue to sell e-cigarette and Juul type devices, but not flavored tobacco products for use with vaping devices.
However, on Tuesday Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and banned the sale of all vape products in the state for four months. The ban includes flavored and non-flavored vaping products in retails stores and online, and lasts through Jan. 25.
Baker took the action in response to confirmed and suspected cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping products, according to a press release from his office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Food and Drug Administration confirmed 530 cases of lung injury in 38 states. Sixty-one cases were reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Many were reported by patients who used marijuana-related vaping products, which are prohibited in Harwich, but some also involved nicotine products. No cases have been reported in Harwich, according to Eldredge.
The Harwich Board of Health approved three permits for adult-only retail tobacco stores. Eldredge said they will be spread out across town. The new regulations provide for a 500-foot separation between stores selling tobacco.
Before approving the new regulations, the health board approved the three applications for the adult-only retail tobacco stores. Eldredge said the applications were made a couple of months ago and all three meet the 500-foot limit. The stores will not be allowed to sell vaping products during the four-month ban, however.
Tobacco manufacturers have spent billions of dollars every year on marketing to encourage young people to purchase cigarettes, the board said. Flavored tobacco products were especially being marketed to young adults.
But the use of e-cigarettes, especially by young people, has drawn serious concerns across the nation. Recently vape-related lung disease has escalated across the country. Health board regulations set a minimum legal age for purchase of tobacco and vaping products at 21 years of age.
The board pointed out in its statement of purpose in the new regulations that “59 percent of high school smokers in Massachusetts have tried flavored cigarettes or flavored cigars and 25.6 percent of them are current flavored tobacco product users; 95.1 percent of 12 to 17 year olds who smoked cigars reported smoking cigar brands that were flavored.”
According to the governor's office, 41 percent of youths in the state reported trying e-cigarettes in 2017, and one in five reported using the devices regularly. E-cigarette use is six times higher for youths than adults.
The initial effort to get flavored tobacco products banned in town came from students in the eighth grade Project Citizen program at Monomoy Regional High School. Students put together a petitioned article for town meeting, but it was recommended that the battle is better fought through board of health regulations.
The board of health has been taking input from retailers who sell tobacco products and has been working on implementing new regulations since April, according to Eldredge. There were four or five of them present at the board's meeting last week and “they seemed to be supportive of the flavor restrictions,” Eldredge said. The retailers stressed under-age users were not getting flavored tobacco from the convenience stores in town, she said, but rather through online sellers or older relatives and friends.
The applications approved are for The Royal Smoke Shop at 721 Main St. in Harwich Center, issued to Saumil Patel; 21 Plus Smoke Shop unit 9 Harwich East Plaza, issued to Harwich Corp. P. H. Patel; and Harwich Smoke Shop, 16 Route 28, West Harwich, issued to Bahecharbhai V. Patel. The actual licenses will not be issued until inspections are done at the facilities, Eldredge said.
An adult-only retail tobacco store is defined as an establishment that does not share space with another business, that has a separate public entrance, that does not sell food or alcohol, that does not have a restaurant license or a lottery license, and whose only purpose is to sell or offer for retail sale tobacco products and/or tobacco product paraphernalia. Entry of persons under the age of 21 is prohibited at all times and the establishment requires a valid permit for the retail sale of tobacco products from the board of health and applicable state licenses.
During the four-month ban, state officials will work with medical experts, state and federal officials to better understand the vaping illnesses and develop steps to address the “public health crisis,” according to the press release. More public awareness resources on the effects of vaping will also be made available.
“The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents,” Baker said in a statement.
Chatham Approves First Smoke Shop
CHATHAM – Under board of health regulations that went into effect Sept. 1, flavored tobacco can only be sold in “adults-only” smoke shops and not in general retail stores.
Recently, the health department approved the first permit for a tobacco shop.
The 21-Plus Smoke Shop will open at 1579 Main Street in the Shop Ahoy Plaza. The shop is being opened by New Chatham Corp., owned by Paresh Patel of Bourne. It will be managed by Kapil Patel of Harwich. The family owns the Chatham Liquor Store at 756 Main St.
Health Agent Judith Giorgio said there is no limit to the number of smoke shops that can be opened in town. Health board regulations limit access to smoke shops to persons 21 years or older.
Meanwhile, a petition on the front counter of the Cumberland Farms store at the downtown rotary protests the ban on flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products. “We respectfully demand that the board of health and the board of selectmen take all necessary steps to ensure that this arbitrary and unwarranted regulation is promptly repealed, because local government should protect consumer choice and promote fair competition—not undermine it,” the petition reads.
The health board decided to restrict flavored tobacco—including menthol, mint and wintergreen cigarettes and all flavored vaping products—to adult smoke shops only to limit their availability to young people under 21.
A Cumberland Farms official had no comment on the petition.