Greenfield health officials eye stricter tobacco regulations

A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.

A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-27-2024 5:24 PM

Modified: 03-28-2024 9:30 AM


GREENFIELD — The Board of Health is drafting new tobacco regulations that, if approved, would increase penalties for businesses caught selling tobacco products to underage customers, and would put loopholes used to sell flavored tobacco products up in smoke.

The proposed regulations, which will be discussed at a public hearing in the coming weeks, ban the sale or distribution of all flavored tobacco products or flavor enhancements, bringing the city up to speed with the state’s current tobacco laws. It also amends the definition of tobacco flavors to include menthol flavorings and other non-menthol “flavor enhancers” in tobacco that are commonly used by tobacco companies to circumnavigate the state’s 2020 flavor ban, the first and only prohibition of menthol cigarettes in the country.

“After the menthol ban, they’ve come out with a number of new kinds of cigarettes, some even called ‘non-menthol’ menthols … that’s what our regulation will be addressing. It’s really any flavor enhancement, anything added to tobacco products that will make it taste like anything other than tobacco,” Health Director Michael Theroux said.

According to Board of Heath Chairman Glen Ayers, the regulations are intended to push back against tobacco marketing toward children and young adults by combating the loopholes used by tobacco manufacturers to legally sell flavored nicotine.

“It’s really an arms race of marketing or a game of whack-a-mole … we’ll come up with a definition of what flavored products are and then the industry will change their descriptions or wording, so that instead of calling it ‘grape flavored’ they’ll call it ‘purple,’ ” Ayers said. “We’re trying to implement regulations that reflect what the intent [of the flavor ban] really is, which is to stop marketing tobacco products as if it’s candy.”

In October, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Communities That Care Coalition unveiled results after surveying 1,439 eighth, 10th and 12th graders in the nine public school districts of Franklin County and the North Quabbin region on their unhealthy habits. The results showed a sharp increase in youth vaping during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a decrease in 2023.

Ayers said the industries’ motivation behind marketing flavored tobacco lies in getting young people addicted to nicotine so that they would have “customers for life.” The regulations also dramatically increase the fines and other penalties for retailers caught selling nicotine to customers under the age of 21 or violating other terms of the regulation, aligning Greenfield’s regulations with state tobacco laws.

Under the proposed 2024 tobacco regulations, any business found to be in violation of the law faces a $1,000 fine, along with a three-day Tobacco Sales Permit suspension for underage sale violations. For second offenses, businesses would face a $2,000 fine with a three-day permit suspension.

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Third offense violators face a $5,000 fine and a seven-day permit suspension and businesses who violate the law four consecutive times or more with each violation within a three-year period are subject to a Board of Health hearing in which the board maintains the right to revoke their permits.

Currently, the city’s tobacco regulations impose a $100 fine for first-offense violations, a $200 fine with a seven-day permit suspension for second-offense violations, and a $300 fine coupled with a 30-day suspension for third-offense violators.

“The amounts and the fines are increasing because it seemed that the previous fine amounts were no longer a deterrent,” Ayers said.

The regulations also limit the nicotine content of electronic cigarette liquids or cartridges to 3.5% nicotine, and make exceptions to its flavor and nicotine content regulations for on-site consumption at smoking bars, or adult-only tobacco stores, in which all patrons must show a valid ID upon entry.

Comparing Massachusetts’ regulations on tobacco to historical efforts to regulate the use of lead products, Ayers said that tobacco use, and its burden on the health care system, remains one of the state’s largest public health challenges.

“The point really is that this is one of those areas of public health where we can really make a difference for people long-term. That’s what these regulations are really about — creating a healthier future for the population,” Ayers said.

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.