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City raises age for tobacco

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2020 12:21:36 AM
Modified: 2/8/2020 12:21:23 AM

LEBANON — City officials this week opted to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 at the urging of physicians and public health advocates who argue tougher rules will curb youth smoking.

The measure brings the city in line with new federal regulations that took effect in late December and raised the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 across the nation.

The City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to amend Lebanon’s tobacco ordinance to include a ban on selling tobacco products to anyone under 21.

“I think it’s very fitting that our first ordinance of the year is one that promotes public health,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said before the vote. “I think 2020 is off to a good start.”

The ordinance defines tobacco products as anything “made fully or in part of tobacco or natural or synthetic material intended to simulate tobacco, the intended use of which is smoking, chewing or inhaling.”

Examples include cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes or vaping products, officials said on Wednesday.

Councilor Jim Winny, a social worker at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, abstained from the vote. The Lebanon hospital was among several groups lobbying for the change.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, Liz Swanton, community relations and volunteer specialist at APD, told the City Council.

Smoking can cause cancer, heart and lung disease, she said, adding nicotine is particularly addictive to youths. 

“By raising the sale age to 21, we can restrict youth access to e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, we can prevent teens and young adults from becoming addicted to nicotine, and, in the long run, we can reduce the number of people with tobacco-related illnesses,” Swanton said in an audio recording of the meeting. 

In New Hampshire, less than 8% of high school students have used cigarettes in the last 30 days, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

However, roughly 24% of those students have used an e-cigarette during the past 30 days, and 41% said they’ve used vaping products in the past.

Lebanon’s schools ban “tobacco products,” such as cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, from school grounds.

School Board Chairwoman Wendy Hall declined to comment on the city ordinance on Friday, and emails sent to Superintendent Joanne Roberts were not returned.

Supporters say the measure will allow local police to enforce the national tobacco regulations.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration increased the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 nationally, New Hampshire Liquor Commission has said it’s awaiting more guidelines before taking action.

Instead, state regulators enforce a tobacco age of 19, which was mandated as part of last year’s budget compromise.

Lebanon’s new rules went into effect immediately, but it could be months before police are actively enforcing them.

“There will be plans for enforcement in the future but only after we satisfy a number of steps as far as education,” Police Chief Richard Mello said on Friday.

APD, the police department and public health officials hope to soon launch a publicity campaign making people aware of the City Council vote, he said. Then, letters will be mailed to vendors alerting them specifically.

Mello told the City Council on Wednesday that enforcement could someday include deploying undercover employees and volunteers who would attempt to purchase tobacco using an underage license.

Under the tobacco ordinance, sellers found in violation face a $25 fine for a first offense, $50 for a second and $100 fine for subsequent offenses. Young adults who sought to buy tobacco would not be sanctioned. Punishing people for addiction-related behaviors hasn’t worked in the past, health officials said on Wednesday.

None of the city’s tobacco vendors spoke during Wednesday's public hearing, but City Councilor Sue Prentiss expressed reluctance about putting the onus solely on businesses. 

“The vendor point is really where we can stop the outflow, but when you go in and go to make that purchase, you’re part of the problem,” she said. 

Prentiss clarified that she wasn’t suggesting the city penalize smokers.

“I’m just pointing out that it feels to me like there’s a little bit of an inequity,” she said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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