The Marion Board of Health has seen larger turnouts and received more correspondences from organizations outside Marion than it likely ever has, and it all pertains to the board’s pursuit to ban all flavored nicotine products, combustible and smokeless, including the sale of menthol cigarettes.
On November 14, Nicholas John from R Street Institute maintained that flavored nicotine dispensing products such as electronic cigarettes and ‘vaping’ products help to reduce cigarette use in adults, and he urged Marion to follow in the footsteps of other municipalities in Massachusetts and preserve the sale of flavored non-combustible nicotine products.
“[Other municipalities] have preserved the option for smokers and of those of legal age to purchase safer forms of nicotine – e-cigarettes and vapor products,” said John. For example, in Canton very recently, he said, “Canton exempted menthol and wintergreen … and other smokeless tobacco [products]. They did so because they looked at it and said ‘No. We’re going to leave cigarettes on shelves but we’re going to take the safer alternatives away and make them less accessible?’
“They saw the issue in doing that,” John said.
John said he understands the board’s desire to keep these products out of the hands of kids, but a ban would remove a number of ‘safer’ alternatives to cigarettes.
“Part of public health regulation should take into account adult smokers and encourage them to use less harmful alternatives,” said John. “I respectfully request and urge you to keep that option on the table and to consider adult smokers…”
John, a long-time smoker himself, said he was able to quit smoking through the use of an e-cigarette, “And a lot of other people who have been smoking a long time want to do the same … and should be able to do the same.”
“You take that option away from them,” said John. “To make that better decision.”
Dennis Lane from the Coalition for Responsible Retailing (CRR), a “frequent flyer” at recent BOH meetings, pointed to the board’s consistent lack of questions or comments related to information that was submitted by groups who were against the proposed ban on flavored smokeless nicotine products, including the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers who oppose a ban on menthol cigarettes due to the effect it would have on minority groups, the leading users of menthol cigarettes.
“[It] suggests that you have possibly embraced the notion that these regulations won’t have their intended effect … and should be part of a reduction strategy,” Lane said, concluding by urging the board to take this flavor ban off the board’s agenda and focus on other strategies like tobacco use education and the strict enforcement of existing tobacco laws.
Lane said the CRR had sent out a mailing to all registered voters in Marion informing them on the ban the board was trying to implement, urging them to take action and sign an online petition against the ban. He said that within just a couple of hours he had received a good number of signatures in response.
“Trust the people,” said Lane, and trust the retailers. “We respectfully ask that you reject the proposed regulations.”
Board of Health member Jason Reynolds thanked all the guests for their input, but said that he was not swayed.
Articles from some journals that he has read, said Reynolds, still call into question the efficacy of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.
“I myself am not ready to close the issue at this time,” said Reynolds. “I still think there needs to be more…” Reynolds said he was also encouraged by some residents’ responses to the CRR’s mailing, and expressed a favorable opinion on the ban.
“We’ve actually had support from the community that looking into this idea is worthwhile, so I think we should continue with it,” said Reynolds.
According to Reynolds, there are no acceptable standards to measure nicotine delivery of electronic devices and the only approved products to help in smoking cessation are products like nicotine patches and nicotine gum.
Board of Health Chairman John Howard added that the use of prescription anti-depressants like Wellbutrin and Chantix along with a nicotine substitute is a successful protocol.
Bob Collett, director of the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program, who has been assisting the board for over a year, commended the board on its unwavering position on flavored tobacco and nicotine products and said, without citing any specific peer-review studies, that the science points to an increase in risk to menthol cigarette smokers in particular. He maintains that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, and smokers smoke more menthols than other smokers do regular cigarettes. “You become more addicted, you smoke more,” said Collett.
“This [ban] … is a nice, natural, logical step for this board to take,” Collett said. “Set an example for other towns who are waiting for this to happen so that they can be bold enough to move forward as well.”
Howard said, “This has been well talked about and a lot of listening going on up here, so – no decisions tonight.”
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for November 28 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
By Jean Perry