Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge raise minimum age for tobacco sales to 21

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LEE >> In an effort to curb teenage smoking. Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge have become the latest Berkshire communities to hike the minimum age to 21 to buy tobacco products.

The Tri-Town Boards of Health representing the three municipalities voted Monday night, to make the change, effective Jan. 2.

Tri-Town Health Director James Wilusz had recommended the age go from 18 to 21 in one year increments, taking full effect New Year's Day 2018.

But the board — and even one tobacco retailer — felt an immediate three-year age hike was best from a health and enforcement perspective.

"You skip two more whole years of smoking and that's good," said board member Marie Feder, of Lenox.

"I am more against going in a tiered schedule; I would rather go to 21 and call it a day," added Ray Cross, district manager for F.L. Roberts. The Springfield-based company operates Big Y Express in Lee and other convenience stores throughout Western Massachusetts.

Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge join Williamstown and Lanesborough who earlier this year upped the minimum age to 21. Williamstown's new tobacco regulation took effect Sept. 1, but Lanesborough opted for a starting date March 9, 2018.

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The Tri-Town decision affects 14 businesses in Lee with permits to sell tobacco products and related items such as electronic cigarettes. Lenox has eight tobacco retailers with just three in Stockbridge.

Increasing the minimum purchase age is the latest push by municipal health officials across the commonwealth to keep young people from lighting up or sticking a wad of chewing tobacco between their check and gum.

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Pediatrician Dr. Lester Hartman, of Needham, the first Massachusetts town to adopt the Tobacco 21 campaign, told the boards that research has shown 90 percent of lifetime smokers begin puffing before the age of 21.

"The longer we delay the smoking, the more effective is the minimum age," he said.

Hartman noted that tobacco use by high schoolers in Needham dropped three-fold after the minimum age was bumped up to 21.

From a public health point of view, the higher age could make a dent in the tens of millions of dollars spent combating tobacco-induced illnesses, according to Tri-Town officials.

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"Even if someone smokes responsibly, the rest of use bear the brunt of medical expenses associated with smoking," said Charles Kenny, of Stockbridge.

The Tri-Town Boards of Health on Monday made several other local tobacco regulation revisions that include capping the number of tobacco permits at the current levels in each town. Those existing permits returned to the Tri-Town can be reissued to another business, but no new ones will be granted.

The board also set a minimum price of $2.50 for single-sales of cigars and at least $5 for multi-packs of cigars.

With single cigars as cheap as 33 cents, Wilusz had said, based on national research, raising the price of single cigars will decrease the probability adolescent males will light up a stogie.

According to Massachusetts health data, youth use-rate of cigars and smokeless tobacco in 2013 was at 12.3 percent, compared to a 10.7 percent for cigarettes — a disparity that has existed since 2009.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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