Mohammad Shafique has owned The Barn package store on Falmouth Road in Mashpee for more than 20 years. His store is only yards from a Gulf Gas Station across the Barnstable town line, and Mr. Shafique worries that if the Mashpee Board of Health decides to move forward with a proposed ban on flavored tobacco in town, his store and his family would be affected.
Mr. Shafique was one of several retail store owners in town who attended a board of health public hearing last Thursday, October 25, at Mashpee Public Library. The store owners urged the board to consider the impact on their businesses if the tobacco regulations were updated, saying that many shoppers will make the trip to Barnstable, where the regulators have not enacted a similar ban.
“It’s not fair,” Mr. Shafique said.
He understands the need to stop children and young adults from getting hooked on nicotine, but his shoppers may decide to travel the 150 or so yards across the town line to the Gulf station, also on Falmouth Road, to pick up their flavored tobacco, as well as the milk, bread, newspapers and other goods they would typically get at The Barn.
The board is considering a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and flavored cigars, at retail stores. The proposed changes arrive two years after the board updated its tobacco regulations to increase the minimum legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21.
The board’s proposed regulations would not impact adult-use-only stores. The Vape Way on Route 151, for example, could sell its nicotine products used for vaping and e-cigarettes because only shoppers 21 years old and older are allowed to enter.
The three-member health board plans to take the comments made last Thursday into consideration before voting, possibly at a meeting next Thursday, November 8. If the board decides to move forward, the regulations likely will go into effect at the end of December, health agent Glen E. Harrington said.
The board already took public comment on the issue over the summer, hearing from some of the same retailers, and has updated the draft regulations with some of the comments received. The board decided against revoking a license after just three tobacco violations, as proposed earlier, and the new draft is also more lax on signage requirements warning against tobacco.
Not everyone at Thursday’s hearing opposed the new regulations.
Robert D. Collett, director of Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program, backed the proposal. Mr. Collett said that tobacco companies spend their marketing money targeting young adults around the age of 14. The flavored tobacco products, he said, get children hooked on nicotine. He said that the tobacco industry has created 1,500 different tobacco flavors that are targeted at kids.
Stacy Schakel, a nurse in the Mashpee Public Schools, said that several students have been using a vaping pen known as Juul, which contains nicotine. Juuls look like USB devices, but Ms. Schakel said that the schools have tried to educate students and parents about the dangers of smoking and that they are not a healthy choice.
She said that students typically start smoking the Juul and then switch over to smoking cigarettes. Students that are found with the product are both educated about and disciplined for the offense, the nurse said. She also said that the products were being marketed to children at a young age.
Asked how students might acquire the product, Ms. Schakel said that they find it is a mix of older siblings buying Juuls for younger students or students buying them online.
But others at the hearing, including Dennis Lane, owner of a Boston-area retail store and executive director of The Coalition for Responsible Retailing, said that targeting individual retailers in one town will do little to stop underage smoking. He said that most products are purchased online, not from local retail stores.
In his more than 40 years as a retailer, Mr. Lane said, his store has had only one violation of selling to a minor. While he said he supported the board’s efforts to reduce youth smoking, he said that targeting retailers would have little impact and urged the board to vote against imposing the flavored tobacco ban.
Board Chairman Brian J. Baumgaertel thanked the 15 or so people who attended the hearing for their input. He said that it was not an easy decision for the board knowing that families would be impacted either way they ruled.