The Newton Health and Human Services Department has adopted a regulation that will restrict e-cigarette sales to two existing tobacco stores that have a 21-and-up age limit in an effort to protect minors from lung illness and addiction.
The department notified retailers of the final regulation after a community listening session in early October and gave them two months to prepare before the regulation takes effect as of Dec. 16.
There are 41 stores that sell tobacco and nicotine products in Newton, but only two of those are considered by the city to be “Adult Only Retail Tobacco or Retail Nicotine Delivery Product Services,” which are restricted to those ages 21 and up. They are Vape Daddy’s in Nonantum and Garden City Vape & Smoke in Newton Highlands.
Concerns arose after 66 percent of local high school students polled in Newton’s fall 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they thought it would be easier for them to obtain electronic tobacco products than other substances.
In Newton, 15 percent of students reported using e-cigarette products in 2018.
Newton’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Deborah Youngblood, said the purpose of the regulation is to limit e-cigaretteaccess for Newton’s most vulnerable population: the city’s youth. She said she has seen rates of youth use decline in other communities where access was limited.
“We have been working very closely with the high schools, in particular, and seeing the alarming rates with which our young people were picking up this habit,” Youngblood said. “Our school partners were coming to us and saying, ‘We’re not sure what to do.’”
Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker implemented a four-month statewide ban on sales of all vaping products after 61 cases of lung illnesses were suspected to have stemmed from their use. The temporary state ban prohibits distribution of any electronic tobacco and marijuana vaping products.
Youngblood said Newton’s regulation covers all electronic tobacco and nicotine delivery products, but does not include marijuana vaping products because they are regulated by the state. Unlike the state ban, she said, Newton’s regulation will be permanent.
Jolleen Filio, a Newton North High School counselor who specializes in vaping prevention and intervention, said she was recently hired as a resource for the increasing number of students who have been caught vaping.
“A lot of kids do it for peer pressure purposes or because they’re stressed or anxious, and they’re trying to use it as a coping mechanism,” Filio said. “What we’re really trying to do is get them to be happier and healthier by creating different habits.”
Filio said several of her students want to quit vaping and view the city regulation as a helpful inhibitor, but she worries that others will use alternative methods to obtain e-cigarettes. The counselor speculated that the regulation might help “casual users” but will do little to stop those who have become dependent.
“My worry is that some kids would just ask an older sibling or an older friend to buy them and that would not stop,” Filio said.
Recent media coverage of vaping-related lung illness has alerted students to the dangers, Filio said. Students like Brianna Spiegel, a senior at Newton North High School, are raising awareness about the detrimental effect that e-cigarette use has on her classmates.
Spiegel serves on the Newton Youth Commission, which helps brainstorm solutions to youth-related issues such as substance abuse problems and mental health challenges.
“E-cigarettes are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts,” Spiegel said at the public listening session Oct. 3. “I’m concerned for my friends and classmates that I know who tried JUUL or other vapes because they found them on social media and thought it was cool.
“Now, they are really struggling to quit.”
Shayna Scott and Hannah Schoenbaum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.