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Amherst health board seeks to move menthol smokes to adult-only stores

  • Amherst Town Hall



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 07, 2019

AMHERST — Restricting mint and menthol tobacco products to adult-only stores, and limiting vaping products to these same businesses, are among revisions being considered by the Board of Health to its regulations last updated four years ago.

The health board will hold a public hearing Nov. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Pole Room at the Bangs Community Center, 70 Boltwood Walk, to get feedback on the proposed changes.

Other adjustments being contemplated include updating the definition of an adult-only retail tobacco store and capping the number of these establishments allowed in town, as well as restricting where they can be located.

Health Director Julie Federman said as concerns about vaping and its possible connections to lung illnesses, and the popularity of vaping with those under 21, the health board wanted to update its regulations.

“The hope is that this will help address how many youth we’re seeing vaping, but also everyone in general,” Federman said.

Federman said regulations related to flavored tobacco has typically excluded mint, menthol and wintergreen, but the health board wanted to take another look at this decision because those types of tobacco products tend to appeal to youth, and make taking in smoke more pleasant for any smoker.

Under the proposed changes, Juul pods and e-cigarettes of all kinds could be restricted to the adult-only tobacco stores, though Federman said this would come with a more specific definition of what these stores are that would minimize their potential harm to convenience stores and other retailers who depend on tobacco sales.

Although Amherst has only two adult-only stores, Exscape and Wildside, the health board might put a hard cap on how many are permitted and where they can be located.

The board last voted to change the “Regulations of the Amherst Board of Health Restricting the Sale of Tobacco Products” in May 2015, with new rules that went into effect in August 2015, most notably raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Amherst to 21.

Revisions at that time also gave the town the power to regulate any non-regulated nicotine delivery system in the same way as tobacco, set a minimum price of $5 for packs containing two or more cigars and banned the the sale of flavored tobacco products — including e-juice cartridges used in e-cigarettes — by package stores and convenience stores.

The latest changes being considered appear less dramatic than those being discussed in Northampton, where the Board of Health voted to move forward with a proposal that would limit the sale of all tobacco products in the city to designated smoke shops, removing them from traditional convenience stores beginning July 1, and creating a new cap of 29 permits for tobacconists, or smoke shops.

Federman said all with tobacco permits have and will have three minutes to speak. The health board is not likely to take a vote until sometime in early 2020, and any adjusted rules would go into effect at an even later date.

In 2013, Amherst’s Board of Health prohibited the sale of tobacco at pharmacies, capped the number of stores that can obtain retail tobacco permits at 23 and restricted blunt wraps. Those regulations also set a procedure for retiring permits as they expire, meaning that Amherst will likely continue to have fewer places where tobacco is available.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.