Community Divided Over Tobacco 21 Push That ‘Hurts The Retailers,’ Restricts Vaping Access

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Officials in a Massachusetts community are debating raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, that vaping advocates say will hurt retailers and smokers trying to improve their health.

The Board of Health in Winthrop held a hearing Tuesday night to hear public arguments in favor and against the tobacco age hike that will also apply to vapor products that contain no tobacco. Retailers in the community fear the age hike will significantly cut into their business, jeopardizing their financial futures. One shop owner who only recently opened his businesses said at the hearing, “If I had known about this I would have never bought,” reported Winthrop Transcript.

Roughly 60 percent of customers buying milk at his store also purchase cigarettes, one retailer noted. He said the health board should focus on cracking down on shops selling to minors instead of moving to broadly restrict access to the products.

“You hurt the retailers when you are trying to make sure it doesn’t get in the wrong hands,” Nisarg Patel, owner of a Quick Food shop in the town, told Winthrop Transcript.

Much of the focus on the age hike surrounded the issue of rising teen use of electronic cigarettes. Critics of the products say the products are acting as “gateway” to combustible tobacco.

The “gateway” theory on vaping was previously debunked in a collaborative study by researchers at the University of Stirling and Public Health England; however, tobacco control crusaders continue to push the myth.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, released Dec. 14, shows reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent this year, down from 24.6 percent in 1997, even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.

The public can comment on the proposed shift on tobacco policy through Jan. 31, and the Board of Health is scheduled to vote on the issue at their next meeting Feb. 27.

Millions of former smokers in the U.S. are embracing the positive science on vaping and using the harm reduction tools to quit combustible cigarettes. Roughly 2.62 million former smokers were using a vape in 2016.

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