Boston proposes new restrictions on e-cigarettes, other tobacco products

The Boston Public Health Commission this afternoon unanimously approved proposed rules that would crack down on the sale of electronic cigarettes, popularly known as e-cigarettes, regulating them like actual cigarettes.

The battery-powered products, which usually look like cigarettes, deliver nicotine in the form of vapor and have been largely unregulated.

The commission’s proposal would require retailers to obtain a permit to sell them and prohibit their sale to minors. It would also ban use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.

“We don’t know what people are inhaling with these e-cigarettes,” said Nikysha Harding, director of tobacco control for the commission. “We see these as a gateway for youth to become addicted to nicotine.”

The board gave initial approval, as well, to doubling the fines for retailers who sell tobacco products to consumers under age 18 or violate other tobacco control regulations. The rules also would prohibit the sale of low-cost, single cigars just slightly larger than cigarettes that have become an attractive option for price-conscious youth looking for alternatives to cigarettes. Called cigarillos, they sell for as little as 50 cents each.

After a month-long public comment period and a public hearing next month, the commission will vote on Nov. 10 whether to make the rules final. They would become effective within 30 days, except the cigarillo restrictions would go into force 60 days later.

If the rules become final, retailers would have to apply for a permit through the commission’s Tobacco Control office to sell e-cigarettes, which are often marketed as nicotine replacement therapy.

The products are made of plastic and metal and heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge to create vapor that the smoker inhales. Currently, it is legal to sell e-cigarettes to children.

A handful of convenience stores in Boston sell e-cigarettes, according to a survey conducted by the Northeastern University School of Law Public Health Legal Clinic — and more stores are interested in selling them, according to the commission.

The regulations would require that e-cigarettes be placed behind the store counter, like tobacco products, and that they not be sold to minors. E-cigarette use would be banned in the workplace, which includes restaurant patios and decks, and loading docks.

At least two other Massachusetts communities — South Hadley and North Attleboro — already regulate the sale of e-cigarettes, according to the Boston commission.

As for cigarillos, they would have to be sold in their original manufacturer packaging of at least five and bear a health warning — measures intended to combat single-sales marketing to youth and discourage their initiation into cigarette smoking.

Fines for retailers found in violation of the city’s tobacco control regulations would double — from $100 for the first offense and $400 for the fourth offense in 12 months, to $200 for the first offense and $800 for the fourth offense in 24 months.

A public hearing on the proposed regulation is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Hayes Conference Room on the second floor of commission’s offices at 1010 Massachusetts Ave. Written comments are being accepted by the commission from Sunday, Sept. 11, through Oct. 10. They can be sent to the Boston Public Health Commission, Board Office, Attention: Jamie Martin, Board Secretary, 1010 Massachusetts Ave., 6th floor, Boston, MA 02118, or e-mailed to [email protected]

By Kay Lazar, Globe
[email protected]

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