WESTFIELD- The Board of Health voted unanimously March 10 to place a moratorium on issuing new tobacco licenses until the board can establish a new capacity for the number of adult-only tobacco stores in Westfield.
The vote came after a recent incident in which a tobacco and vape shop in Westfield was selling illegal flavored tobacco products and possibly selling adult-only products to minors.
Health Director Joseph Rouse said Wednesday that Westfield currently has a citywide capacity of 55 tobacco licenses. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, some tobacco and vape stores in the city closed down. There are now 45 active tobacco licenses in Westfield.
“It would be a good time to shore that up and establish a new cap for adult only establishments,” said Rouse.
In the months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Westfield and Massachusetts as a whole had been contending with new laws surrounding the sale of certain flavored tobacco and vape products. In December 2019 state legislators passed An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, which banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, restricted the sale of most tobacco products to “adult only” establishments that specialize in selling tobacco and vapes, and established a 75 percent excise tax on the wholesale price of nicotine vaping products.
Rouse said that the conversation surrounding vapes and tobacco use among youths fell by the wayside when COVID-19 entered the public conversation. Now that we are, hopefully, passed the worst of the pandemic Rouse wants to start paying attention to other Health Department priorities as well.
“We haven’t had to deal with [tobacco and vape laws] since, but now I see that we need to regroup and find out what’s best at a later date,” said Rouse, “Things like this are starting to emerge that we would not have even had a discussion about because COVID is all consuming.”
Neither Rouse nor the members of the Board of Health indicated what they would like the new license capacity to be.