HARWICH — As the town and state prepare more restrictive regulations governing the sale of tobacco products, a new smoke shop has opened in Harwich Center.
New state regulations went into effect on Dec. 11 and the town’s new board of health regulations went into effect on September. Additional provisions will be effective Jan. 1 prohibiting retail stores with tobacco licenses from selling flavored tobacco products. However, adult-only retail tobacco stores will be able to sell such products until June 1.
The health board, before approving new tobacco regulations, acted upon three license requests for adult-only retail tobacco store permits. Those permits were for Saumil Patel's Royal Smoke Shop at 721 Main St., Harwich Center; 21 Plus Smoke Shop, unit 9 Harwich East Plaza, Harwich Corp., P. H. Patel applicant; and Harwich Smoke Shop, 16 Route 28, West Harwich, for applicant Bahecharbhai V. Patel.
Health Department Director Meggan Eldredge said the licenses would not be issued until inspections are done at the facilities. To date only one inspection has been done, at the Royal Smoke Shop in Harwich Center, which is now open. Eldredge said she has had a request by the East Harwich applicants for an extension of their application and inspection to Feb. 15. She has heard nothing from the applicant in West Harwich. The Fully Baked Smoke Shop operating in the West Harwich Post Office plaza has expressed an interest, if the West Harwich license is available.
As of January, the new regulations will also require stores selling tobacco to have a 500-foot separation from other stores selling tobacco. The Royal Smoke Shop license was issued before that regulation was implemented.
Over the past six months there has been a lot of concern about the impact of vaping products, which have reportedly caused lung disease in some users. Officials have criticized tobacco manufacturers for spending billions of dollars on marketing to encourage young people to purchase e-cigarettes and enticing young people with flavored tobacco.
A report put out by Gov. Charlie Baker said 41 percent of the youth in the state reported trying e-cigarettes in 2017 and found that e-cigarettes use is six times higher for young people than adults. This fall the Baker put in place a four month public health emergency banning the sale of vaping products based on the number of deaths and serious lung diseases experienced across the country. The ban was lifted when new regulations went into effect.
The initial efforts in Harwich to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products was driven by students in the Project Citizen program at Monomoy Regional High School. The health board reacted by limiting access to certain tobacco products to the three adult-only shops.
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 retail sale of tobacco products from the board of health and applicable state agencies.
Eldredge said a number of public sessions have been held with store owners who sell tobacco products. The town has established a limit of 16 retail tobacco permits along with the three adult-only permits.
“The retailers have seen this coming and have been very cooperative,” Eldredge said. “They have some decisions to make on whether their business is viable or not.”
The Royal Smoke Shop adult-only retail tobacco store is located in what used to be the former Post Office in Harwich Center, which has for many years been a computer repair business. At the entrance of the building there is a clearly located announcement that anyone under 21 years of age is prohibited.
The owners of the operation admitted this week that the first few days they’ve been open have been slow, but they are counting on a boost when the new regulations take effect with the New Year, when the 16 stores with existing tobacco permits can no longer sell flavored products. Under the regulations, only the adult tobacco stores will be able to flavored tobacco products until June 1. Other retail shops can sell flavored tobacco products they have in stock until the June deadline.
Alay Patel of the Royal Smoke Shop said when the new regulations take effect retail convenience stores and gas stations licensed to sell tobacco products will no longer be able to sell the flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco flavors as wintergreen and green mint. Those products can only be sold in smoke shops. Business is expected to increase at that time, he said.
The Royal Smoke Shop will sell such items as menthol cigarettes, cigars, electronic devices, vape pens, glass pipes, flavored tobacco and bulk tobacco. They will also sell Juul at the 3 and 5 percent nicotine levels.
Patel pointed out that as of Jan. 1, other stores in town will be allowed to sell Juul products with 3 percent nicotine while only the smoke shop will be able to continue selling the 5 percent product.
Patel said the present Juul products are said to be a little more than 3 percent and may also be sold only in the smoke shops until an adjustment is made. There is no consumption on premise and there will be no cannabis products sold, Patel added.
“We’re hoping for a lot of people coming through the door,” he said.
Patel admitted they are feeling their way along and the next six or seven months will indicate whether the business is viable. He said they have a seven-month lease on the property, and should the business be successful, they would consider buying the property.