Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge join list in banning sales of flavored, noncigarette tobacco products

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LEE — The dramatic rise of vaping among Berkshire teenagers and young adults has prompted three more local communities to ban the sale of e-cigarettes and other flavored, noncigarette tobacco products at some businesses.

The Tri-Town Board of Health, representing Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, has ordered stores to remove the following items from their shelves by Oct. 1: flavored cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco and, most notably, vaporizing devices, such as e-cigarettes, and the nicotine solutions used in those devices.

The ban applies to convenience stores and businesses where young people easily can access the products. The flavored, noncigarette tobacco products can be sold in adult-only establishments — such as smoke shops — provided that the Tri-Town Health Department issues them permits, according to the revised Tri-Town regulations for Youth Access to Tobacco.

"We have an obligation to reduce young people's exposure to products ... tobacco companies are targeting to kids," said Tri-Town Director James Wilusz.

Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge join Great Barrington, Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Adams, North Adams, Williamstown and 143 other Massachusetts communities in adopting restrictions on sales of the flavored, nicotine-based products. The restriction affects 64 percent of the state's population, according to Wilusz.

Nationally, such a ban is gaining momentum in larger communities. San Francisco is seeking to become the first U.S. city to ban electronic cigarettes to crack down on youth vaping.

"Vaping is a peer thing, a cool thing and [young people] are tasting flavors, like mango, that masks the nicotine," said board member Diana Romeo, a retired nurse from Lenox. "It's a gimmick to get them interested in tobacco."

Wilusz says the local bans are necessary because the federal government 10 years ago only prohibited the sale of candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes because they were marketed to potential young smokers. There is no federal or state ban on e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco-related products.

Local, state and federal health officials are finding a dramatic rise in teens and young adults vaping using e-cigarettes, which are electronic devices that produce an aerosol by heating a liquid.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 3.6 million middle and high school students vaped in 2018, 1.3 million more than in 2017.

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It was the largest annual jump in the use of any substance, including marijuana, that health researchers had seen in more than 40 years, according to a recent New York Times article.

Locally, adolescents appear to be vaping more and lighting up less, according to the 2019 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey.

The Berkshire County assessment of eighth, 10th and 12th graders found cigarette use overall had dropped to 7, 12 and 23 percent, respectively, down from 14, 20 and 33 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, teen vaping went from 12 to 20 percent of those eighth graders surveyed using e-cigarettes; 30 to 35 percent in Grade 10; and 40 to 44 percent for high school seniors.

The survey also found that the rate of vaping by eighth and 10th graders was second only to alcohol consumption and third among 12th graders, behind booze and marijuana.

Wilusz says the survey shows the need to educate teachers, school officials and parents on the dangers of vaping.

"It's not a substitute for cigarettes, as vaping involves nicotine, an addictive chemical," he said.

One Midwest school district is so alarmed by teen e-cigarette use that it plans to test 400 middle and high school students involved in after-school activities for nicotine. The Fairbury School District, just south of Lincoln, Neb., already tests the students for performance enhancing drugs, according to several online news reports.

Fairbury Superintendent Stephen Grizzle told the Lincoln Star Journal that school district policy already prohibits students from using cigarettes and e-cigarettes, so why not test for it?

"Vaping and smoking, in our view, is reaching epidemic proportions," Grizzle said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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