WILMINGTON — On Tuesday night, the Wilmington Board of Health held the public hearing for the proposed amendment of regulations to prohibit the sale of smoking and tobacco products from convenience stores in town. After listening to the presenters and written comments and asking follow-up questions, the board decided to table their vote on the regulation to their next meeting so that they could have enough time to digest the information.
The first presenters were two lobbyists on behalf of retailers, said Health Department Director Shelly Newhouse, who argued that this regulation would be prohibiting them from having profitable business.
“[They said that] retailers are trained in proper age verification guidelines… that they can be the gatekeepers for minors.”
A comparison was made between the tobacco industry and alcohol industry, but they did not comment on the effects of these tobacco products.
Program Coordinator at Bay State Community Services, Mary Cole, MPH, CHES then explained for the board that the intent of the regulation is to limit youth exposure to tobacco. She reminded the board that one of its purposes is to promote and protect the public health, and this would be one way of doing exactly that.
While she was questioned about data regarding the increase of nicotine overdose, Cole said that she’d have to seek it out but assured the board that there had surely been a spike. She included in her information for review a survey that found that only six percent of these tobacco products are bought online and a campaign from the Department of Public Health designed to educate parents of middle and high school students about the effects of vaping.
After Cole finished, D.J. Wilson offered a list of cities and towns with similar e-cigarette bans in Massachusetts that he and Newhouse considered in making their updates to the proposed regulation. This way, Newhouse said, the regulation would be consistent with other towns in Massachusetts in vocabulary and definitions.
He mentioned that this regulation would incorporate the five-year-old regulation from the Attorney General while also bringing business to the tobacco retailer in town once convenience stores could no longer sell these products.
For this specific regulation, he says that there are 19 towns that have approved but only three towns actually enforcing the rule. He shared an anecdote from the City of Malden’s failed attempt to use a city ordinance to keep minors from using these products, which was quickly stopped when it created an obstacle between youth and the police.
While he believes that the FDA will create a health warning on these products, he’s not confident that it will make an impact, and that’s because of the current condition of health warnings on cigarettes in Massachusetts.
Wilmington resident Keith Hirst also saw the necessity of a town regulation where the FDA falls short.
“The FDA refuses to oversee manufacturing,” the registered respiratory therapist told the board.
He included that traditional cigarettes have lower concentrations of nicotine than the average flavored tobacco product, which has no regulation whatsoever. His presentation contained a study of 147 e-liquids that determined that 97.9 percent of the bottles had a health warning, with only 26 percent mentioning that the product contained nicotine and zero percent stating that nicotine was addictive.
Finally, Wilmington’s Director of Nursing Services, Doreen Crowe, spoke on behalf of the Superintendent of Schools in full support of the regulation. She brought up a statement of the FDA that said that these tobacco products lead to long-term addiction.
There’s also concern for the harm that the chemicals in the e-liquids and those produced by the vapor can make on a developing brain. Crowe shared that e-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product among youth and that their use makes young people 64 percent more likely to start smoking.
Board of Health member Elizabeth Sabounjian read the written comment from Wilmington Police Department’s Samantha Reed, which mentioned a survey done in 2017 at WHS that found that 28.4 percent of students had used a tobacco product within the last 30 days. The statement comprised Reed’s full support of the restriction.
Newhouse finished with the letter from the Attorney General, reading how important it is to reduce tobacco and nicotine use in minors.
With two weeks to review the information they have received and any extra correspondence from the presenters via email, the board will make their vote on the regulation at their next meeting, on Tuesday, Aug. 21.