The Reading Board of Health held a Public Hearing during their regular meeting on Monday, February 6 to hear testimony regarding proposed changes to its regulations regarding the sale of tobacco products in town. There are five proposed changes to the current regulations. The first revises the definitions of three terms, including “Tobacco Product.” The second proposed change would be to prohibit the sale of any flavored tobacco product except in special tobacco stores where only persons over the age of twenty-one are permitted entry. The third proposal would raise the minimum price for single cigars to $2.50 and packages of multiple cigars to $5.00. The fourth proposal would not allow tobacco sales at any new store located within 1,000 feet of a school zone. The fifth and final proposal would reduce the number of tobacco sales permits available in town as these permits are surrendered. The motivation behind these proposals is to further limit access to tobacco products to underage persons. The current age one can purchase tobacco products in Reading is twenty-one.
Elaine Webb, President of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse encouraged the adoptions of these proposals, citing the evidence that links early tobacco use, to the usage of stronger addictive substance later in life. Ron Beauregard, who works on tobacco control in several nearby communities, shared that of the 184 retail establishments in the communities in which he works that have established similar regulations, not a single establishment has gone out of business.
Sara McColgan, Director of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association Tobacco Control Program also spoke in favor of the proposals. McColgan stated that kids who shop in convenience stores that sell flavored tobacco products are 60% more likely to start smoking. and that 84 communities in Massachusetts have already enacted similar regulations to those proposed in Reading. “The tobacco industry has said for years that these products are not marketed to children, let’s take them at their word and remove them from places where children shop.” McColgan continued.
Several residents spoke in opposition to the proposals, most customers of the Reading Quick Stop, which sells some the products which would be restricted if the new regulations were adopted. A couple questioned whether or not the proposals were aimed directly at the Reading QuickStop. “Dan runs a tight ship.” one resident commented. “Why put his livelihood in jeopardy?” The owner of Reading QuickStop commented that he partnered with the Board when the current regulations were enacted, but has since made a significant investment in providing his current range of products. He reiterated that “the kids may get these products, but not from my store.”
John Halsey of RCASA and the Board Selectmen asked about the rate of violations of the current regulations and how those regulations were being enforced. The Board said they would look into that information. After closing the Public Hearing, the Board tabled their discussion of the proposals so that they could absorb the information they had received. They will open their discussions again at their next meeting on March 8. Details as to the time and place of this meeting will be available on the town website at www.readingma.gov