LYNN — The Board of Health opted to hold off on becoming the 148th municipality in the state to ban all flavored nicotine and tobacco products from being sold in retail stores.
Following a lengthy public hearing, the panel decided to table a vote on Tuesday night, rather than rush into a decision that would have taken the flavored products out of stores and restricted them to the city’s three smoke shops, or adults-only establishments.
“We just need to look at the overall picture in a less rushed fashion,” said Ronald Dupuis, chairman of the Board of Health.
A vote is expected at the panel’s next meeting, scheduled for June 25.
Proponents have said the proposed ban would be aimed at reducing vaping among teens, which health officials have called an “epidemic.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017, 3.6 million middle and high school students were using tobacco products, with 2.1 million favoring e-cigarettes.
There are more than 8,000 flavors, which are designed to attract young people as they take away the harshness of nicotine, according to Joyce Redford, director of the North Shore/Cape Ann Tobacco Policy Program.
But unlike Somerville, which became the first city in the state to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes and menthol cigarettes in stores that are open to youths, Lynn’s potential restriction would continue to allow the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen flavors in retail stores.
Adam Ponte, an attorney representing the Coalition for Responsible Retailing, said he was speaking on behalf of convenience store owners who oppose the flavor ban. Nobody disagrees that underage tobacco and nicotine use is an epidemic, he said.
“What I disagree with is the method this board is considering to handle this problem,” Ponte said.
Ponte said Lynn retail stores have a 96 percent compliance rate selling to age-appropriate customers. Sales are restricted to adults 21-plus, he said, arguing that youths are getting their vaping products not from convenience stores, but other methods.
“These stores do their job,” said Ponte, who is also representing a group of store owners challenging Somerville’s ban. “We shouldn’t punish them for doing their job.”
Roger Patel, owner of E Z Shop Food Mart on Chestnut Street, said he supports protecting young kids from tobacco and nicotine products, but opposes a flavor ban, as it would hurt business. The problem is kids are getting vaping products from friends, siblings or on the streets, not from stores, he said.
But Dayna Altman, community coordinator of the Substance Abuse Prevention Program at Girls Inc. of Lynn, was in support of a ban.
Through her roles, which include managing a substance use prevention grant issued by the Department of Public Health, she said she’s learned that the true target of the vaping industry is youth, specifically youth of color. She argued that the majority of kids using e-cigarettes get their products from retail stores.
“Vaping has been classified as an epidemic among young people and this is largely in part by the three main tactics employed by the tobacco companies, and that is to make products sweet, cheap and easy to access,” Altman said. “Lynn teens are exposed to countless retail stores in their community.”