Tobacco law adds kid-friendly products, e-cigs as city catches up with changes
A sweeping revamp of tobacco control laws – this time around including e-cigarettes and other “nicotine delivery product” – won unanimous support from residents, health experts and city officials at Monday’s meeting of the City Council, where a vote moved the package to the council’s Ordinance Committee.
The council’s last anti-tobacco package was passed in 2003, and it made Cambridge “an early statewide leader,” said Sam Lipson, director of environmental health for the city’s Public Health Department, but “the landscape of tobacco regulation has changed in the last several years.”
Issues related to tobacco and smoking have cropped up repeatedly in the past months, including ongoing efforts at the Cambridge Housing Authority to end smoking in its public housing (a ban that doesn’t include e-cigarettes), a move to stop pharmacies from selling tobacco and a proposal to prevent youths under 18 from buying e-cigarettes, just as they can’t buy tobacco cigarettes. Some 52 cities and towns in Massachusetts have a pharmacy law on the books, and at least 44 have begun regulating the cigarette lookalikes.
“Cambridge was very much the leader on this years ago, and then we fell a little bit behind as other communities took what we had done and expanded it and moved on,” councillor Marc McGovern said. “This is our opportunity to look at what other communities have done, expand on that ourselves and really move forward and create not only healthy children, but a healthier environment altogether.”
In fact, Lipson said, the work dates back to an October 2010 council request to take a renewed look at smoking in public parks. The more recent requests caused the re-forming of a park tobacco working group into a 25-member Tobacco Advisory Committee with members added from the Tourism Board, colleges and school district, Housing Authority and Somerville’s Six City Tobacco/Alcohol Initiative, which includes Cambridge.
The proposed amendments to the city’s Tobacco Ordinance, known in its laws as Chapter 8.28, includes:
A prohibition on smoking in all parks and municipal open space
A prohibition on smoking in all rooms at inns, hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts
A prohibition on smoking in all outdoor seating areas next to restaurants
Regulation of all e-cigarette and other “nicotine delivery product” sales under the same restrictions as combustible tobacco
A prohibition on tobacco or nicotine delivery product sales in all health care institutions (including pharmacies and drugstores, clinics or health centers)
A prohibition on sale of tobacco or nicotine delivery products to anyone under the age of 21
Restrictions on pricing and packaging for cigars
A prohibition on sale of blunt wraps
A prohibition of all commercial roll-your-own-cigarette machines
Restriction on sale of flavored tobacco (with an exemption for tobacconists)
Councillor Leland Cheung – with infant daughter Lela Marie on his knee – asked if it was possible to ban smoking on sidewalks around tot lots, since some playgrounds have municipal sidewalks bordering them where smokers could gather. City Manager Richard C. Rossi promised a look at adding buffer zones to the rules that ban smoking in public parks, which include tot lots.
Aimed at kids, and available
The focus among officials and public speakers was on stopping youth from smoking, and flavored tobaccos came in for particular scorn from speakers who also claimed that the way Cambridge’s laws are written allow even children in their single digits to buy e-cigarette products that should be available only to adults. Although they have been credited with helping people quit, they also draw concern as entry-level smoking products available at any age (although it is referred to as “vaping” instead of as “smoking”), when most people addicted to smoking are reputed to start before age 18.
“At the corner store near me, where my kids are usually with me, there is an assortment of tobacco products that … look like candy. This is a strawberry-banana blunt wrap, this is a chocolate-flavored cigar,” said Gwendolyn Stewart-Kibb, who said she knew of the products she displayed to councillors through her work with the state Department of Public Health. “They’re made like candy, and most adults don’t know what they are.”
“It’s also worth noting that my kindergarteners can legally buy e-cigarettes in the city of Cambridge. I don’t think they’re about to, but they could,” Stewart-Kibb said.
Elizabeth Tanefis, another parent and activist in anti-tobacco efforts, said that six months ago she experimented by stopping into a variety of businesses in Central Square “just to see what products were out there,” and found many, along with a 7-Eleven clerk willing to point out which were favored by kids. “They were flavored products and cheap products,” she said.
When stopping into a nearby felafel restaurant for lunch, she found she could buy an “e-hookah, which is an e-cigarette,” Tanefis said. “Those are completely unregulated. My 3.5-year-old could also buy one while she’s getting felafel.”
Caught up in the tobacco regulations are blunt wraps, which Lipson said were unlike the other targeted products in that, rather than being nicotine delivery products, they are used mainly for marijuana. They would still be available in Cambridge after the laws are enacted, he said, but would be available only at tobacconists. Lipson mentioned one, but local smokers can find different mixes of products at Jack’s Smoke Shop in Alewife or the 127-year-old Leavitt & Peirce in Harvard Square.