Effective soon, all flavored tobacco and nicotine products will be banned from stores in Marion, with the exception of the flavors menthol and wintergreen. In the coming months, however, the town could add these minty flavors to the ban, including menthol cigarettes, as the board wants to revisit the matter after abandoning the notion last year.
The Marion Board of Health (BOH) on July 16 voted to amend section 12 of the Marion Sanitary Code regulation that adds “the sale of flavored tobacco” to now read “Restricting the Sale of Tobacco, Nicotine Delivery Products and the Sale of Flavored Tobacco.”
Essentially, the sale of these products will be restricted to adult-only stores, of which there currently are none in Marion.
The measure aims to restrict the access to these products from children and, more importantly, to banish children’s perception that flavored nicotine products such as those used for ‘vaping’ are commonplace and acceptable by removing them from stores they frequent.
Before the vote, several supporters of the proposed new flavor ban commended the BOH for taking action.
By removing these products from the very places children go to buy Gatorade or candy, said Morissa Vital, the program manager for the Southeast Tobacco-Free Community Partnership, it “de-normalizes” the use of the products, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will one day use them.
“Flavored tobacco products are considered to be starter products,” said Vital. The flavors are what attract children to the products, she said – flavors, she added, that now exist in over 8,000 different varieties.
According to data from 2017, Vital said that over 20 percent of young people in Massachusetts use flavored nicotine products while only 6 percent smoke traditional cigarettes.
“They know that combustible cigarettes are bad and dangerous and harmful,” said Vital, “and with e-cigarettes … these products are marketed as a safer alternative or targeted as actually not being harmful at all.”
Most of these young ‘vapers’ do not even know what ingredients these flavored nicotine products contain, she said.
Damón Chaplin, health director of the New Bedford Health Department, said the city would be taking up the same flavor regulations in the fall, among others.
“So, you are not alone in supporting these restrictions,” said Chaplin.
“I don’t see anybody opposed at this point,” said Board of Health Chairman John Howard as he looked around the room. “I think it speaks loudly that there is no one here in opposition.”
Board of Health member Edward Hoffer said he thinks a regional effort to ban flavored tobacco and nicotine products would prove more effective, given that a ban in Marion would simply drive young people to seek the products in neighboring towns.
As Wareham has now decided to take up the matter of banning all flavored tobacco and nicotine – including menthol cigarettes – the Marion Board of Health has also decided to reignite its own efforts to do so.
“There’s no question that we’re going to rethink it,” said Howard. “I can assure you there will be another public hearing on that issue within a year. That is definite. It will come back.”
According to Joseph Carvalho who was present to support the new flavor ban, at least 10 other municipalities are in the process of trying to ban menthol cigarettes from stores, restricting them to adult-only stores.
The Board of Health was enthusiastic in October 2016 to become the first municipality in the nation to succeed in banning menthol cigarettes, despite letters from “Big Tobacco” that threatened a lawsuit against the board, but then changed its mind and focused its efforts on the other flavored products that contain nicotine. At the time, the board gave no specific reason for its game plan change, but during several past meetings a number of Marion storeowners, civil rights activists, and other organizations spoke against a menthol cigarette ban, cautioning the BOH that passing a ban on menthol cigarettes would potentially affect commerce in town.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for August 6 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Health
By Jean Perry