By Danae Bucci
The July 10 meeting of the Bedford Board of Health covered a variety of topics that would affect many of the town’s residents, the star topic being the proposal of new tobacco regulations.
The meeting took place in the Fitch room at Town Center. There, the six board members discussed two proposed amendments to tobacco regulations, one on smoking in the workplace and another on retail sales of tobacco and nicotine delivery products. The meeting, originally set to be from 6 pm to 9 pm, took longer than expected after a few board members debated the board’s role in creating these regulations.
“I’m pretty conflicted on this one,” confessed board member Ann Kiessling.
To add to the conflict, Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Retailing Dennis Lane gave a presentation on how banning flavored nicotine products could be detrimental to many local businesses.
The “new and cool” marketing scheme that the nicotine community has come up with in recent years is flavored products. Whether in cigars, electric cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or hookah, the candy like assortment of flavor options are thought to attract children.
Lane, who’s owned a small convenience store in Quincy for the past 43 years said, “my biggest nightmare is one of my customers coming up to me and saying ‘Dennis, you sold my kid a pack of cigarettes’ or one of my people sold their kid a pack of cigarettes.” Lane told the board that 40 percent of his sales come from tobacco sales, and if they limit his ability to sell certain tobacco products that could destroy his profits. “Not only do I lose that parents trust … they’re never going to walk through my store again.” That alone is not worth selling nicotine products to underage children according to Lane.
Board members worry about how fruity flavored nicotine products such as “peach cigars” are marketed to appeal towards a younger, illegal, demographic. “We understand the intentions of the … flavor bans, but no one’s going after alcohol,” said Lane, who was very passionate as he spoke. He brought up the fact that alcohol often comes in the same flavors as nicotine products.
“When you go into a liquor store, when you walk in, right at the register you’ve got blueberry, pineapple [alcoholic beverages], you can buy these for 99 cents. They’re the same flavors we sell tobacco in. I have pineapple nips and I have pineapple cigarillos.”
Lane believes that a way for towns, such as Bedford, to prevent nicotine products from being sold to underage people is by increasing the smoking age to 21, a measure that Lane believes the entire state will be moving to in the near future.
Lane says “if the age to purchase is enforced, then no one who is not of legal age to buy tobacco products can get them. So it takes care of getting them into the hands of young people.” He spoke of forces that the law cannot control, such as young people buying tobacco products off the internet, having an older sibling buy for them, or asking a random person off the street to buy it for them. But there is no way to control that. The only thing they can control is enforcing the age laws in these stores. “Those of us standing at the register are the first line of defense between an underage person getting a tobacco product or not getting a tobacco product.”
Despite Lane’s testimony, board members were still torn as to what they should decide after his presentation.
Although these changes wouldn’t take place in Bedford until an official hearing and approval by the Board of Health, it was evident that the entire committee will be thinking about the topics until then. The Board of Health’s next meeting will take place on September 11 and they encourage community members join them.