21 and up to smoke?

Proposal to raise smoking age brought before City Council

Henry Hobson / Equinox Staff

Vincent Moore

News Editor

Student users of both tobacco products and e-cigarettes who are also under the age of 21 might have their habits threatened next month, should the Keene City Council pass a proposed ordinance.

According to a Keene Sentinel article published on July 26th, 2018, Program Manager for the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities Kate McNally sent a letter to Mayor Kendall Lane and the City Council proposing that the City should adopt an ordinance raising the age to buy or possess tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21.   

“We would like to see raise the age for sale and purchase of tobacco products which includes the electronic devices from 18 to 21,” McNally said.

McNally explained that the coalition has been in existence since the 1990’s and works on policy development, helping people quit using tobacco products including vaporizers and preventing kids from starting tobacco use.

McNally said that legislation is one of the best strategies to prevent and reduce the use of tobacco products.

“It’s one strategy that’s been pretty robust around the country. There’s over 300 communities around the country that have implemented this strategy to try and reduce youth tobacco use. There’s a lot of kids between the ages of 15 to 17 that have easy access to tobacco products which includes the vapes, and this is one strategy that’s known to reduce that use for 15 to 17 year olds by about 25 percent,” McNally said.

McNally said that the focus of the ban was to protect children, “We’re not out to prohibit adult use or to ban the products altogether, really our focus is just to find a strategy to get it out of the schools.”

Monadnock Vapor owner Daniel Cavallero estimated that Keene State students make up approximately 20-30 percent of his business, with a majority of that figure being under 21.

“Not only will it affect my business greatly but it’ll affect a lot of the businesses around here. It’ll affect gas stations and other vape shops in the area,” Cavallero said.It’s not just Cavallero’s profits that would be negatively affected should the ban pass; his 18 year old employee, Billy Martin of Northfield, Massachusetts, could lose his job.

“If the ban goes through I won’t be able to work in this store, the Keene, New Hampshire location. So I will probably end up moving locations or who really knows,” Martin said.

Cavallero said his store doesn’t sell tobacco products but rather it sells electronic nicotine delivery systems, in other words, vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

“A lot of these nicotine juices, or any e-juice, they come in either zero nicotine, usually three milligrams, six milligrams and very rarely do they come in 12 milligrams. And most people wean themselves off down to at least three milligrams, and a lot of people go down to zero. There’s absolutely no tobacco, there’s no combustion, there’s no smoke. It’s just laziness on the part of the FDA. To go even further I don’t even think it’s laziness, I think they purposely put this in the same category as tobacco products because they want to tax it in the same way they tax tobacco,” Cavallero said.

Angelique INchierca / photo editor
Should the proposal pass, Monadnock Vapor Employee Billy Martin, who is under 21, and other vape and tobacco store employees like him, risk losing their jobs.

McNally said that even though the government hasn’t yet determined whether or not e-juice is safe, its addictive properties are what makes it dangerous.

“We don’t know exactly what problems it causes. There’s so much research out there that I’m not really sure until I hear from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) that it’s safe, I’m not going to feel very comfortable about it. One of the dangers I can say right up front is addiction. That’s dangerous. If these products were not sold with nicotine and the flavoring, then they probably wouldn’t be as attractive to younger people.”

Another concern McNally said she has over e-juice is how appealing its flavors are to children, having pleasant sounding flavors like gummy bear and bubblegum.

In order to combat the potential ordinance Cavallero said he has written letters to the City Council, Mayor Kendall Lane, and the City Clerk’s office detailing his opposition to the proposal and had scheduled a protest on Tuesday, August 28, which had only an estimated total five people show up, none of whom were under the age of 21, “It was not very effective because the timing was off, Keene State College students were just getting back from summer vacation. I thought [the City Council] were going to be reconvening the day after but they pushed it off another month until September 26th,” Cavallero said.

First-year nursing major Alia Gams, who is 18, said she felt that the current legal age to consume tobacco products was perfectly fine, but if the proposal passes, she would have to quit. “There’s plenty of other places to get it, if it becomes an issue of not being able to use it on campus if you’re under 21 then I probably would have to stop,” Gams said.

Interim President Melinda Treadwell said that should the ban pass her priority would be to educate students on it: “We already have a lot of conversations about our ‘Healthy KSC’ and our ‘Live Well’ and wellness initiatives, and we have some limits on smoking near doorways and other things, and I think if the city does move in this direction I first need to understand what’s the limit of it and what are the true obligations, then the biggest thing I would do  is work to educate our students to understand what the city ordinance is and help protect them from running afoul, if you will, of the city ordinance if by simply not being aware of it.”

Treadwell said city ordinances typically affect adjacent properties while KSC is bound by campus policy unless there is a state or federal requirement, since the college is a state institution. “The best example I can give is the noise ordinances in the city; those tend not to be something we enforce on our campus Appian way walk structures but they are enforced in some of the residential areas. There’s a cooperativeness, but there’s not an obligation for us to accept and enforce all the details of things that are different than our own campus policy,” Treadwell said.

Cavallero said he has doubts over whether the ban would be effective should the proposal pass.

“They are young adults, they’re going to continue to vape there’s no doubt in my mind that they will. And they’re just going to go support a neighboring local economy and it’s going to be very inconvenient for them. And it’s also going to create a black market for 21 year old. They’re going to come into my store, they’re going to buy cheap Juul pods, and they’re going to spend 300 dollars and then they’re going to mark them up and send them around campus.” Cavallero said.

McNally said that the Coalition is open to working with adjacent communities in the region to implement a similar policy, “I think we would absolutely continue to work around the region and to support towns that might be interested in it.”

“There’s a misperception that we’re trying to ban the products and that kind of thing and really we’re not out to get anybody we’re really just trying to do the right thing and keep kids healthy,” McNally said.

Cavallero, however, disagrees: “We’re talking young adults, we’re talking 18 to 20 years old who are old enough to fight in a war and die for our country, they’re old enough to vote for the leader of the free world, they’re old enough to be on a jury, a lot of 18 year olds work and pay income tax so it’s crazy in my opinion.”

Discussion on the proposal is expected to continue at the City’s September 26th Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure committee

Vincent Moore can be contacted at vmoore@kscequinox.com

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