Billerica Huffs to Puff Out Minors Vaping
BILLERICA -- Vaping devices and refills will have significantly less shelf space in town if the Board of Health moves forward with its proposal to limit these products to 21-and-over tobacco stores.
The revision would effectively limit the sale of these products to one store, Billerica Smoke Shop on Boston Road, according to Health Director Richard Berube and Management Analyst Clancy Main.
The board plans to notify the town’s tobacco sales license holders and hold a hearing on the topic in March. It expects to vote at the same meeting, the only approval needed to institute this change.
Berube said the proposed revision is intended to reduce minors’ access to these products amid the growing popularity of vaping among teens.
A nationwide survey found 37.3 percent of high school seniors reported vaping in 2018, compared to 27.8 percent in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“We’re trying to keep it out of kids’ hands,” Main said.
A presentation by the Substance Abuse Prevention Committee to the Board of Health reported vaping among children as young as elementary school, Berube said.
“That was pretty shocking to hear,” he said.
According to Berube the proposal was developed by the Board of Health and Town Managers office in conjunction with other town departments.
Currently vaping products can be sold at any of the town’s 38 tobacco sales license holders. Berube said these stores can continue to sell vaping products if they shift to only serving people 21 and over, though he believes this type of change is unlikely.
“I don’t potentially see any others because most of the other stores are markets or convenience stores,” he said.
According to Berube, the town currently has a cap on tobacco sales licenses, meaning it will issue no new licenses. If a store with a license closes, that license will “go away,” reducing the total amount of licenses in the town.
If approved, this regulation will go into effect in July, giving stores enough time to clear their shelves, according to Berube.
Subash Bansal, the owner of 1 Bridle Market, said his store currently sells vaping products, a relatively popular item.
A change like this would be “tough” for the business, but not force the store’s closure, he said.
“It’s going to affect us for a few days and then it goes back to normal,” he said.
Bansal expects the change will be similar to an earlier revision enacted by the Board of Health to limit fruit-flavored tobacco to specialty stores.
“It did (affect us), but not much,” he said.
At a meeting of the Board of Selectmen earlier this month, Town Manager John Curran introduced the proposal to selectmen, which he said was based on recent changes in Dracut
This fall, the Dracut Board of Health approved a proposal to limit the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products to adult-only retail tobacco stores.
The town also raised the tobacco age to 21-years-old just weeks before the end of 2018, when the statewide increase from 18 to 21 went into effect.
“Although people think (vaping is) used primarily for tobacco products, it’s actually used in many cases for marijuana products,” said Town Manager John Curran. “It’s an issue that I think we need to pay close attention to, especially with the changing laws in the commonwealth and around the country.”
Selectmen Michael Rosa and George Simolaris both responded to the proposal by asking about the process for approval and comment.
“I didn’t realize the power of the Board of Health in this situation here. ... I’ll be keeping my eye on that,” Simolaris said.
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