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Board of Health tightens tobacco regulation policy

by | Oct 4, 2022 | News

The Hopkinton Board of Health at its meeting Monday evening unanimously approved a change to Hopkinton’s tobacco regulation policy, calling for a three-day permit suspension for an establishment’s first violation for selling tobacco or vaping products to minors.

The change came about after Olivia Dufour, Framingham’s tobacco control manager, appeared before the board to explain that some language irregularities were discovered in the state’s 2019 Tobacco Control Law regulating the sale of tobacco and vaping products, prompting the need to modify municipal policies.

“Theoretically, everybody’s on the same page,” she said. “There were a couple of things that came up along the way as we were switching to this new state regulation that got overlooked.”

She noted that the state law was passed at the end of 2019 and enacted in June 2020, only a few months after COVID-19 emerged. This shifted the focus of the state and local health departments away from this policy toward the more urgent concern of combatting the pandemic.

“We’re not behind in any way,” Dufour stressed, noting that she is working with other communities that may need to tinker with the language in their policies. “We’re right on schedule with most of the other municipalities in the commonwealth and what they’re doing.”

The key points of the state law, Dufour said, prohibit the sale of tobacco to someone who is under 21, the sale of flavored nicotine products, and sale of a vape product with greater than 35 grams per milliliter of nicotine content.

While there have been no tobacco sales to minors reported in Hopkinton during compliance checks, Dufour noted that a local time frame needed to be documented for a first violation.

The state’s policy calls for a $1,000 fine for the first offense. While one part of the law stated there was no permit suspension for the first offense, an amendment mentioned “a suspension of up to 30 days.” This discrepancy, Dufour said, pointed out a need to codify a time frame on the municipal level “to make it super clear from the get-go.”

She added that it would be “best practice” for the local regulation to specify a number of days so that punishments are evenhanded.

“We can’t change our regulations tonight without a public hearing,” Chair Lisa Whittemore pointed out. At that time, there could be “a bigger conversation” about potential changes with the community. This process would allow the local regulations to be adjusted.

Whittemore suggested a three-day suspension for the first offense, which was approved. She also explained that it could be voted upon at this meeting because it enforced a state regulation. Hopkinton’s policy was developed “four or five years ago,” she noted, which was before the state law went into effect.

Health Director Shaun McAuliffe said the state public health associations that he worked with when developing Hopkinton’s tobacco regulations are revising the language so that it better conforms with the state’s policy.

Board members get state survey

McAuliffe discussed the state’s Department of Public Health survey, which he said is more than 100 pages long. Board members need to complete it by Oct. 12. The goal of the survey is to evaluate health departments statewide and look at their credentials.

“At the end of the day, they’re looking to do an assessment of what are capabilities are, what our background is, and then the next stage is for them to do some verification,” he said.

McAuliffe noted that the board is part of the MetroWest Health Collaborative, which is based in Hudson. However, there have been discussions that the town may be moved into another group, he said.

Strategic plan development discussed

McAuliffe said he met with representatives from the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management Publications based at the University of Massachusetts Boston at a recent conference. One of the group’s specialties, he explained, is helping health and finance departments develop strategic plans, which is a goal of the board.

“I think working with the Collins Center would be a good strategic move for the future where they could assist us with grant funding from both the state and federal government,” he said, noting he hopes to set up a meeting soon.

COVID-19 rates hold steady, vaccines offered

Public Health Nurse Simone Carter noted that the town’s COVID-19 rates have remained at around 100 cases per month for the past few months.

There are four upcoming vaccine clinics for both the bivalent COVID-19 and flu vaccines geared toward people with mobility challenges, according to Carter. Small clinics will continue to be held at Town Hall on Tuesday evenings for adults to receive the Moderna vaccine.

A clinic will be held for elders on Wednesday for both the flu and bivalent COVID-19 vaccines. Carter will administer vaccines to police officers and firefighters on Friday morning, and she will hold a clinic for town employees at Town Hall in the afternoon. There will be a drive-through clinic on Oct. 14 at the middle school.

McAuliffe noted that every community in the state is required to have an emergency dispensing site plan, which needs to be certified by the state’s Department of Public Health for its proficiency. This certification, as well as involvement in the Community Emergency Medical Services Program, allows the town to draw on state and federal resources as well as help from regional partners when necessary. An example Carter offered was when the town needed to acquire personal protective equipment early on in the pandemic.

McAuliffe said the town currently has about $50,000 in grant money to use for vaccination clinics and PPE purchases for the schools and municipal offices.

“We seem to be in a good position as we move into the holiday season,” he said.

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