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Montague, Leverett raise purchase age for tobacco, Franklin County Fair going ‘mostly’ smoke free

Two Franklin County health boards voted Wednesday night to increase to 21 the age for the purchase of tobacco products, and the Franklin County Fair board of directors has “voted unanimously to become a (mostly) smoke free fair starting in 2015.”

“I think personally that this is one of the most important regulations that has happened in tobacco regulations in the last 20 years,” said Gina McNeely, health director for the Town of Montague, where the three-member health board also voted to ban the sale of flavored cigarettes, except for mint and menthol, that are allowed by the FDA, to those not 21.

Citing government statistics that most smokers start before the age of 18, McNeely said she felt the increased purchase age would “cut down quite a bit” the exposure of students to cigarettes from older students. She noted that she got her first cigarette at age 10, from an older brother and smoked for 18 years.

The Leverett health board also voted to raise the tobacco purchase age to 21 from 18, and banned the sale of alternative produces such as electronic as well as single cigarettes to those under 21. Board chair Fay Zipkowitz said the regulations are being finalized, along with the permit process covering enforcement, and would be in place March 1.

“I feel very good about this,” Zipkowitz said. “I am asthmatic and so I am very concerned about the ongoing effects of tobacco products, but this is particularly a serious health issue with young people and that is why the board of health is interested.”

Zipkowitz said the only opposition registered prior to the vote was graffiti on advertisements for the meeting, saying, “You can be 18 and die for your country, but you cannot smoke.”

“You don’t sell alcohol unless someone is 21, and you don’t sell someone under 21 tobacco products for the same reasons,” Zipkowitz said.

The board of Greenfield’s Franklin County Fair announced its decision in an email to media, and cited the “countless visitors who have requested this policy over the past several years.”

“After months of discussion and consideration, the Franklin County Fair Board of Directors voted unanimously to become a (mostly) smoke free fair starting in 2015, and thus banning smoking in almost all areas of the fairgrounds,” the announcement states. It adds that four areas on the grounds have been designated for smokers. These include the demolition derby staging area, near the midway restrooms and adjacent to the midway, and near the Fish and Game building.

I think personally that this is one of the most important regulations that has happened in tobacco regulations in the last 20 years.

Montague’s McNeely noted that she was Holyoke’s first tobacco control officer back in 1993 when the legislature’s .25 cent tax on cigarettes helped fund anti-tobacco education.

“I have been doing this sort of tobacco work for 20 years,” McNeely said. “I can remember going into restaurants and bars and there was no place to sit away from smokers. Now, my nieces and nephews go to bars and restaurants and there is no exposure, so the next huge step is raising the purchase age to 21.”

Both board of health votes were prompted by proposals from the Franklin and Hampshire Substance and Tobacco Prevention Partnership.

Montague’s regulations take effect July 1, and McNeely said the town is “very happy to be the leader” in Franklin County with such regulation.

“We think it is really important, and we are hoping other communities will follow and think that they will,” said McNeely, who has been Montague’s health director for 15 years.

More than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have enacted their own expanded regulations on the age of sale for tobacco products, a trend growing across the country.

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