The Sandwich Board of Health learned this week that the town’s current regulations concerning the sale of tobacco products do not meet minimum state requirements.
The board plans to nullify the out-of-date regulations and adopt the state’s requirements.
The discrepancy between local and state regulations was brought to the attention of the board at its meeting on Monday, March 13, by Robert D. Collett, director of the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program. The program is a state-funded initiative of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
Mr. Collett’s office is responsible for enforcing state tobacco regulations, which includes conducting sting operations on retailers to check for underage tobacco sale violations.
On the agenda at the board of health’s meeting were violation hearings for Merchant Square Liquors and Route 6A Convenience, both of which had been cited by Mr. Collett’s office for selling tobacco to people under age 21.
While the agenda listed their hearings as second offenses, a clerical error resulted in only the first violation being counted by the health department. According to Sandwich’s tobacco regulations, a first offense results in a $300 fine.
However, Mr. Collett pointed out to the board after the fines had been paid, that the penalty should have been much harsher. Rather than $300 for a first offense, the state regulations dictate a $1,000 fine and a mandatory temporary suspension of the store’s ability to sell tobacco products.
Mr. Collett said the stricter regulations have been in place for three years.
When the new laws took effect January 1, 2020, they caught many local health departments, which were already embattled by the COVID-19 pandemic, off-guard.
“We were planning on adopting the state regulations, but during COVID, it got lost between the cracks,” said board member Rebecca L. Scott.
“Yarmouth had done this a couple of times before they realized they were supposed to be using the state law,” Mr. Collett said. “It’s not the end of the world. But for the next offense if there is one, you have to go by the state law. Even if you don’t adopt it into your regulation, that’s what needs to happen.”
The new regulations outline restrictions on where tobacco can be sold, what kinds of products are allowed and strengthens the penalties for violations.
For underage tobacco sale violations, a first offense will result in a $1,000 fine, a second offense will result in a $2,000 fine, and a third offense will result in a $5,000 fine. A temporary sales suspension will be required with increasing severity for each offense, but the law allows local regulators to define the suspension times at or above state minimums.
The law also gives local regulators the freedom to use a different tier of fines for other violations, or to use a unified fining structure with the harsher underage sale penalties.
The board of health plans to hold a public hearing during its next meeting in April to void the old local regulations and adopt the state ones. Mr. Collett noted that he does not feel the move will be controversial.
“Generally speaking, no one comes in opposition,” Mr. Collett said. He added that the opinion that smoking regulations harm local bars and businesses had largely died out in the 1990s and early 2000s.
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