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Should municipalities restrict sale of e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes to 21-and-over tobacco shops?

 Doug Kress
Doug KressHandout


Doug Kress

Somerville director of health and human services

Admittedly, some will claim e-cigarettes have a potential benefit to adult smokers. But the use of any form of tobacco product among youths, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe.

The Surgeon General has concluded that rising e-cigarette use among young people is a public health concern, and that exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and harm the developing brain — leading to long-lasting problems with attention, learning, and mood, and impulse control. Studies have shown that menthol and e-cigarette use by the young can be a gateway to using other tobacco products, and the risks of tobacco use are well known.


Somerville recently became the first Massachusetts community to restrict access to e-cigarettes and all flavored tobacco/nicotine products, including menthol, through regulations that limit sales to 21+ stores. We are encouraged that other communities are taking similar action.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing about 480,000 Americans each year and causing more than 16 million others to suffer from illnesses. Yet recent statistics show that e-cigarette use has increased considerably among middle and high school students.

Nationally, one in five high school students uses e-cigarettes, an estimated 3.1 million youths. In 2017-2018, the use of menthol- or mint-flavored e-cigarettes among high-school students increased from 42.3 percent to 51.2 percent. In Somerville this past year, we saw an increase of 4.4 percent self-reported use of e-cigarettes by students in just seven months.

The rise in e-cigarette use is due to marketing and the popularity of e-cigarettes that are shaped like a USB flash drive, have high nicotine content, and come in flavors that appeal to young people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. Tobacco product marketing, over $8 billion a year, is linked to impulse purchases of tobacco products, and an increased likelihood of young people starting to smoke. Walk by any tobacco retailer and you will see the vast range of marketing materials with pictures and language promoting their products to the young.


Local public health officials can and should take steps to limit access and exposure to these addictive nicotine products to prevent our young population from using them.

Jonathan Shaer
Jonathan ShaerHandout


Jonathan Shaer

Executive Director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, based in Stoughton; Needham resident

Convenience retailers acknowledge and appreciate the serious issue of minors accessing and using e-cigarettes. This matter requires thoughtful, targeted solutions, not reactive, prohibition-style constraints in the name of public health policy. While those advocating for flavored tobacco and e-cgarette restrictions would have you believe convenience stores contribute to the problem of underage access and use, the truth is retailers are a vital component of the solution.

Convenience store retailers in every city and town are those communities’ de facto tobacco control division. They are the people waking up every morning dedicated to responsibly selling tobacco, and spending significant sums of money for age-verification training and tools to ensure these sales are made only to adults. Statewide compliance is 93.5 percent, with Somerville and many other towns performing at or near 100 percent, according to Federal Drug Administration verified compliance data. What the data does not support, however, is adults-only stores being more effective at stopping sales to minors.

Common sense and experience reveal that systematically restricting access to legal adult products does not solve a problem, but rather creates new ones. A town eliminating, or restricting to a couple of stores, flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes does not dampen demand or eliminate youth usage. Instead it merely pushes that demand outside our regulated environments to places such as the Internet, and the illicit gray and black market — which already accounts for nearly 30 percent of cigarette sales in the Commonwealth. Look no further than Massachusetts legalizing marijuana to remove it from the black market and into the regulated, taxable market.


Before more policymakers unintentionally create a larger problem by instituting retail restrictions or bans, we encourage them to seek more effective alternatives while recognizing the excellent partner they have in tobacco retailers. We support punishing bad actors, enforcing the legal age of purchase, increasing youth education, cracking down on Internet sales, and establishing statewide purchase, use, and possession laws for minors. Massachusetts is one of only five states in the country without some form of these laws.

More partners are needed in the fight against underage e-cigarette use, not fewer. Policies like those adopted by Somerville are harmful to this endeavor, not helpful.

This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.