Tisbury takes stand on underage tobacco use

Health board approves ban on some flavored tobacco products.

Amendments made to the Tisbury tobacco control reglations will limit the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult-only establishments. — Gabrielle Mannino

A newly adopted amendment to Tisbury tobacco control regulations limits the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult-only establishments.

The Tisbury board of health determined at its Tuesday meeting in the Town Hall Annex that in order to discourage the use of tobacco by minors, it is necessary to restrict the sale of any flavored product besides menthol.

Included in this amendment are blunt wraps, flavored cigars, e-cigarettes, and vapes.

In order for a store to be exempt from the additional tobacco regulations imposed by the town health board, they must qualify as an adult-only establishment. The new regulations go into effect Sept. 1.

This means that nobody under the age of 21 is allowed inside, and all patrons must show identification upon entering.

Kyle Byrne, owner of Island Puff n’ Pass, a glassware purveyor and cannabis accessories store, was at the meeting.

He said that he has allowed people under 21 to shop in his store, but has never sold tobacco products to anyone under the minimum purchase age.

“‘Adult-only establishment’ means anyone under 21 is not allowed in the door,” health agent Maura Valley explained to Byrne.

“OK, we can do that,” Byrne said. “People wanted to look at glass up to this point, I have let them look at glass if they are 18 years or older. But they have never been able to purchase it unless they are 21.”

Chairman Jeff Pratt described the definition of a flavored tobacco product as the “meat of the change” to the regulations.

Valley noted the amendment does not restrict the sale of menthol tobacco, mint-, or wintergreen-flavored products. “Which means we are not prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes,” Valley added.

She mentioned lawsuits pending in off-Island towns because they included menthol and mint as a flavor.

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown had already adopted these regulations targeting fruit-, dessert-, and candy-flavored products that are oriented toward minors, Valley said.

Byrne wondered why fruity flavors are being targeted by the town. “Kids eat fruit all day, so now fruit is bad?” he asked.

“Actually, it’s just the opposite,” Pratt said. “It is because fruit is encouraged and fruit does taste good. It’s a sneaky way of introducing nicotine to the young population.”

Another major change in town tobacco regulations is the limiting of the total number of tobacco sales permits to seven — the current number of permits issued in Tisbury.

If a business’ permit expires, that business may renew the permit within 30 days. If a retailer no longer sells tobacco products or closes operations, they must return their permit to the town, and that permit will be permanently retired. 

Each time a permit is retired or revoked, the number of total allowed permits will be reduced. 

But if a business is bought or transferred, the new owners of that business will be allowed to apply for the existing permit within 30 days.
“What that would mean is that no new businesses would be allowed to have a tobacco permit unless they purchase a business that already has one,” Valley said.

Pratt said he initially “wasn’t all that warm” to the idea of attrition of permits. “Seven is a reasonable amount, seven is what we support in our community,” Pratt said. “While the issue of nicotine addiction is, without question, a public health threat, I thought it [attrition] was punitive. But because of the importance of the initiative, I am going to go ahead and support that change.”

The amendments also forbid tobacco sales within 500 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school.

Valley said many towns across the commonwealth have banned the sale of sweet-flavored tobacco, and she believes the state will “eventually go in this direction, also.”

According to Valley, flavored tobacco products are marketed toward children, not legal-age adults. “I don’t know many adults that look for bubble-gum-flavored cigars,” she said. 

Chairman Michael Loberg wondered how the town will be able to enforce the “adult only” classification restricting minors from entering tobacco-selling establishments. “Let’s assume Kyle sticks with his business model, which is selling flavored things only to people above the age of 21. Who will be inspecting that?” Loberg asked. 

Valley said either the state or the town could perform a compliance check by sending someone under 21 into the store to buy tobacco.

Assistant health agent Catherine Fuller said Byrne has never received an infraction for selling tobacco to minors. 

“But he needs to post signs on the door saying people under 21 aren’t allowed inside,” Valley said. “I would get something from him in writing [Byrne] that says he wants to become an adult-only establishment.”

The Sept. 1 effective date gives stores 40 days to sell their existing inventory of flavored tobacco products.

Valley said all permit holders were hand-delivered a copy of the proposed regulation. “I went to Cumberland Farms and XtraMart, and had conversations directly with the manager,” Valley said. “[Fuller] did the rest of the establishments. All the businesses were personally notified.”

An initial violation of the regulations will incur a fine of $100, a second violation (within 36 months of the first violation) will incur a $200 fine, and the permit may be suspended for up to seven business days. 

In the case of a third or subsequent violation within 36 months, a fine of $300 will be incurred, and the permit may be suspended for up to 30 business days.