Board of Health addresses new regulations on vape sales

WESTFIELD- Board of Health members discussed how they will adapt to new regulations set by state agencies for stores that sell vape and tobacco products during its meeting last week.

The new regulations announced by the Massachusetts Public Health Council on Feb. 19 would restrict flavored e-cigarette sales to specialty smoking bars. They would also restrict vaping products with a nicotine concentration higher than 35 milligrams per milliliter to specialty tobacco stores and smoking bars. The regulations also established new identification requirements for tobacco and vape stores to verify the age of customers.

Health Inspector Thomas Hilbert said that the Westfield Health Department plans to increase the number of compliance checks on stores that sell the products in order to ensure that the various vaping and tobacco products that were banned in recent months are not being sold in Westfield stores. 

“The new fines for tobacco compliance check failure or selling flavored vape products to anyone is $1,000 for the first violation,” said Hilbert, “That is mandatory, we can’t choose to do anything different.”

The fine for a second violation is $2,000 while the fine for a third violation in three years is $5,000. The previous fines for violations were $100, $200, and $300 respectively. 

Hilbert said to the rest of the board that the previous fines gave room for store owners to simply pay the fine and move on. Now that the fine is significantly increased, he expects that more store owners that fail compliance checks will appeal the fine before they pay it. Hilbert said that the plan is to update the compliance check protocol documents so that they reflect the reality of what is or could be sold in stores. In an appeal, this would allow the Health Department to say that they were following their protocol to the letter.

Public Health Director Joseph Rouse said that he hadn’t previously taken into account the severity of the fines that could now be levied on businesses.

“Then I got to thinking about it and all of a sudden it bothered me,” said Rouse. 

He said that he didn’t find it fair that a store that would have been fined $100 for a violation previously will now be fined $1,000 without much warning about the change.

“I felt like there needed to be a process. We have to notify them. We really need to make sure that they know,” said Rouse. 

Rouse said that he had spoken to Lt. Kevin Bard of the Westfield Police Department who expressed interest in Rouse giving him a letter for his officers to hand deliver to every store in Westfield that sells vape and tobacco products. 

“They are also going to put in a call every time they hand deliver one of these to a store. So that way, when the person says when they get caught and fined, they can never say ‘I didn’t Know,’” said Rouse.

Board of Health member Teresa Mitchell said that she liked the idea of warning the store owners first. She also suggested that the store owners be made to sign a document acknowledging that they know about the new fines.

Rouse said that they are still trying to go through the process of completely restricting vape sales to adult only stores that specialize in selling vape and tobacco products and removing said products from convenience stores and gas stations.

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