April 24, 2018

Worcester bans flavored tobacco in retail stores

Photo | Grant Welker
Worcester City Hall as seen from Allen Court across Franklin Street.

At the beginning of next year, Worcester will become the 110th municipality in Massachusetts to enact some type of flavored tobacco ban after the city Board of Health voted to adopt regulations prohibiting the sale of the products in convenience stores.

The products can now only be sold in adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars.

The vote came Monday night after a lengthy public hearing.

According to Matilde Castiel, Worcester's commissioner of health and human services, the adult smoking rate in Worcester is 19.6 percent, higher than the 15.5 percent statewide.

Several spoke in support of the ban, including James Broadhurst, a physician and president of the Worcester District Medical Society, who said there's an extraordinarily broad evidence base to support the regulations.

Flavored tobacco products -- specifically flavored vaping vaporization devices -- are "designed ... to hook young people on nicotine," he said.

A majority of the opposition came from retailers themselves.

Rich Russo, a manager at Star Dollar on Chandler Street, said convenience stores like his ID every customer and operate cameras, just like a cigar bar would.

"What makes them any better?" Russo said.

Dennis Lane, a representative of the Coalition for Responsible Retailing, agreed\ convenience stores play a huge role in keeping these products out of the hands of youth.

The ban, he said, would not solve the problem, which is vaping.

"The reality is, banning flavors will do nothing to solve this problem," he said.

Nicholas John, the Northeast region manager of R Street Institute, an advocacy group educating state and local lawmakers about harm reduction policy, said more flavor options provide more paths away from more harmful products, which he said continue to be cigarettes.

"E-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible tobacco products," he said. "This legislation does nothing to make cigarettes less available."

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce came out against the ban, writing a statement last week saying the ban could result in a loss of over $5 million for convenience stores.

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