Responding to an enormous increase in teens vaping nicotine, Somerville has become the first municipality in Massachusetts to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes, a step that could prompt other cities and towns to take similar action, according to the Boston Globe.
The local Board of Health voted this month to ban the sale of e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes in stores that are open to youths, a move that will effectively pull the products from convenience store shelves.
The regulation comes amid growing concern that e-cigarettes such as Juul, promoted as a way to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes, have instead launched an epidemic of teens addicted to inhaling nicotine from the sleek, electronic devices.
Beginning April 1, 2019, sales of menthol and e-cigarettes will be allowed only in tobacco stores open to customers over age 21.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that more than 3.6 million young people nationwide, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, use e-cigarettes.
In Somerville, the number of teens who reported using e-cigarettes has also spiked, almost doubling between 2016 and 2018, even as the use of alcohol and traditional cigarettes declined, according to the city’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Although teens often regard e-cigarettes as relatively harmless, the surgeon general has labeled e-cigarette use among youths an “epidemic” and warned that nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and harm the developing adolescent brain.
“I think what Somerville has done will pave the way for many others to follow,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who added that San Francisco and Minneapolis are among several other cities that have adopted similar restrictions.
“It is a smart, thoughtful step while allowing adults who already smoke to get access to products.”
Ted Kwong, a Juul spokesman, declined to comment on Somerville’s regulation, but pointed to steps the company has taken to combat youth usage.
He noted that Juul expressed support for the new legal age to purchase tobacco products. And he said Juul last month stopped selling certain flavors — mango, fruit, creme, and cucumber — that critics said appealed to teens.