Needham smokes out underage tobacco use

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Special Correspondent

On July 1, stores in Needham will no longer be able to sell mint, menthol, and wintergreen flavored tobacco products and vape products. The restriction is the result of an effort to reduce the underage use of tobacco products.

Needham previously banned other flavors of smoking products. However, prior legislation excluded mint, menthol, and wintergreen, allowing these flavors to continue being sold in Needham. With this additional legislation, only classic tobacco flavored smoking products will be sold in Needham.

Needham has long been at the front of reducing underage use of smoking products. In 2005, the town became the first community in the country to restrict tobacco sale to anyone under 21. Only ten years later, the rate of people under 21 smoking was slashed in half. The rate of illegal sales to individuals under 18 is 79 percent lower than in the rest of Massachusetts. The restrictions have even seemed to reduce the amount of legal tobacco sales - the adult smoking rate is 56 percent lower in Needham than in the rest of the state.

While these numbers are low, the average of underage use of tobacco products for the country is astonishingly high. According to reports from the CDC, the rate of abuse of tobacco products by youths has gone up by 78 percent in the last ten years. Though the use of traditional cigarettes by people under 21 is at an all-time low, new products have attracted new smokers.

Ken Farbstein, MPP, recognizes that traditional cigarette smoking has gone down, in part, because of its reputation. "It's viewed as ugly and gross habit," he says.

According to 2014 Metro West Adolescent Health Survey, 17 percent of Needham High School students currently use e-cigarettes, while 29 percent of Needham High Schools students have tried e-cigarettes during their lives. JUULs, one of these attractive new products, uses a pod that resembles and small flash drive. The device charges by a simple USB charger. The pods, perhaps what attracts so many young smokers, come in flavors like mint, mango, cucumber, creme, and "classic tobacco".

Farbstein acknowledges that there may be misunderstandings when it comes to these new smoking products. "A lot of young people don't realize there is nicotine in the JUUL products," he says. Unknowingly, youths are becoming addicted to tobacco products.

The new Needham restrictions will hopefully be as successful as previous ones in reducing underage use.

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