Sunday, July 14, 2024

Somerville tobacco sellers face more regulation as of March 1. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

Tobacco retailers have new regulations to follow as of March 1 after the Board of Health voted to pass changes around nicotine products at a meeting on Feb. 15. The sweeping changes range from e-cigarette flavors to requiring ID checks and limiting how many sales permits to issue.

“These proposed changes are in line with the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program and best practice. They are evidence-based initiatives that will reduce smoking in youth,” said Karin Carroll, director of Health and Human Services.

While vape products with flavors such as lime or raspberry have been regulated – and brands that once made products from Mint Chocolate Cheese Cake to Vanilla Bourbon have been forced to shut down – mint and menthol escaped through a loophole: They were considered unflavored. Now Somerville will consider mint, menthol and wintergreen products to be regulated products.

“Documentation will be required from all manufacturers for any of the products that the retailer carries and that would show that the products are not flavored and that they comply with the allowable nicotine rates,” said Bonny Carroll, director of tobacco control of Health and Human Services. (Despite the similar roles and names, the Carrolls are different people.)

The second approved change would require retailers to always check buyers’ ID regardless of whether the seller thinks they look older than 21.

The final change, and what Bonny Carroll called the most significant, would cap the number of nicotine-seller permits issued by the city. According to the draft of the changes, that cap would be 75.

“It won’t impact any retailers that currently have permits now. They won’t be taken away,” Bonny Carroll said.

Little immediate effect expected

The changes are part of a long-term strategy, and immediate impacts may not be seen, said Matthew Mitchell, manager of Somerville Prevention Services.

“We’re trying to decrease the access points to tobacco and nicotine products, but also the exposure to it,” Mitchell said.

There are 150 cities and towns in the state that put caps on businesses selling tobacco products.

Out of sight, out of mind

Many residents and activists – including kids – spoke at the meeting in support of the changes.

Carly Caminiti, director of the 84 Movement – a Massachusetts tobacco prevention program for middle and high school students – said youth are being “constantly bombarded” by marketing messages.

“When we look at what the tobacco and vaping industries have done throughout the course of the last many years, you kind of can see that they’re trying to creep in wherever they can,” she said. “This to me, and I think to the young people that I work with, is more of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation, and it will reduce young people’s use of these products.”

Constant temptations

Teen Bhavika Kalia said that tobacco stores seem to be everywhere, and it sends a message that the use of tobacco is “not only acceptable, but also a common part of our culture.”

“It’s time to acknowledge that the current landscape is not conducive to the well-being of our youth. We need change. We need to create an environment that supports the health and future of our community,” Kalia said. “Let’s work together to create a community that protects its young people from the constant temptations of tobacco.”

After public comment, the board voted to pass the changes and set them to begin March 1.

“To all members of the public who have attended and spent the time to comment and really give some thoughts, they do help our deliberations and seeing the interested parties and the concerns and the impact is helpful,” Board of Health member Robert MacLean said after the vote.