Health Board Takes Up New Tobacco Control Regs

The Revere Board of Health held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening, July 28, at Revere City Hall in the City Council Chambers.

On hand for the meeting were chairperson Dr. Drew Bunker and fellow members Dr. Craig Castanza and Nezha Louaddi.

Also in attendance were Lauren Buck, the city’s Director of Public Health; Michael Wells, the city’s Health Agent/Director of Inspectional Services; Paula Sepulveda, Administrative Assistant; Bonny Carroll from the Six City Tobacco Initiative; Ann Marie Kissel, the Regional Epidemiologist from the North Suffolk Collaborative; and Lisa Stevens-Goodnight, the new tobacco control coordinator for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

The principal business conducted at the 90-minute meeting was a public hearing at which the board discussed adopting new tobacco control regulations for the sale of tobacco products in the city.

Prior to that public hearing portion of the meeting, the board heard presentations on a number of other matters.

Buck presented the monthly Public Health Communicable Disease report and highlighted two specific areas of concern, monkeypox and vibrio.

She said there have been three confirmed cases of mokeypox in the ciy, all of which involve men who have sex with other men. She said all three have been doing well with treatment.

Vibrio is a bacterial infection in seawater, which typically is more pronounced in the warm months of the summer season. Vibrio can be contracted by ingesting infected raw shellfish, swallowing sea water in an infected area, or having an open wound while swimming.

She said there has been one confirmed case in Revere and it did not come from eating shellfish in local restaurants.

Buck said there is one case of tuberculosis in the city and the patient is doing well with treatment.

As for COVID-19, there have been 23,803 cases in the city since the start of the pandemic and the total deceased in the city is 186. Buck noted that the positivity rate in the city has increased in the past two weeks.

Wells then presented  the Inspectional Services monthly report, a relatively new report that he had initiated last month, in which he told the board members of the many and varied number of inspections conducted by his department for housing, restaurants, temporary food vendors, and pools.

He noted that the department issued 48 violations for outside accumulations of garbage and trash, 24 for improper and bulky yard waste placements, 99 for improper placement of garbage and trash, and two for improper signage by persons posting hand-made signs on utility poles and public property.

In addition, there were five citations for improper trash storage, 15 for junk-keeps of automobiles that were stored improperly, two for rodents, 50 for unclean and unsanitary grown vegetation, and three for unpermitted dumpsters.

There aso were 11 violations issued to residents or contractors who were doing work without proper permitting.

Ms. Kissel made.a presentation on the results of the Community Health Needs Assessment survey that was conducted by the No. Suffolk Collaborative, which includes Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.

In addition to COVID-19, some of the other primary areas of health needs that the collaborative works on include environmental health, housing, economic opportunity, and behavioral health. The collaborative’s most recent survey sought to identify the specific concerns of residents in their communities.

There were 1401 respondents to the survey, of whom more than 50 percent were from Revere.

In 2015, the top concerns of Revere residents were substance abuse, crime, mental health, environmental issues, and poor diet and inactivity.

In 2019 there was a shift, with the top five concerns being substance abuse, mental health, environment, housing, and poverty.

In 2022, the Revere respondents to the survey — which asked the questions in a slightly different format — cited more affordable housing, better schools, lower crime and violence,  better access to healthcare, and a cleaner environment as their top five areas for improvement in the Revere community.

In addition, 44 percent of respondents said they do not have access to good local jobs with living wages and benefits. The per capita income in the city of $30,591 in 2020 was well below the state average of $45,555.

One ominous statistic revealed that 13.9 percent of respondents said they were unable to access behavioral health care during a crisis, including suicide. The city has a slightly higher rate than the state per 100,000 persons for mental health issues, 3056/100,000 in Revere vs. 2807/100,000 in the state.

A total of 12.9 percent of those who needed substance abuse services said they did not have access to that type of care.

Revere’s overdose and hospitalization rate for substance abuse was 54.8 per 100,000 of population vs. 46.9 per 100,000 for the state.

Kissel also told the board that vaping has been on the increase in the Revere schools, which makes for unclean and unhealthy air for students who do not vape.

The board then held its public hearing regarding the new regulations for the sale of tobacco products in the city, which last were updated in 2019. Buck explained that the proposed Revere regulations are needed in order to conform to the changes that have been made at the state level over the past few years.

“Our current regulations are so out of date,” noted Buck.

Ms. Carroll and Ms. Goodnight guided the board members through the highlights of the proposed new regulations, with Buck presenting the exact language and definitions of the proposed regulations.

Among the items to be included in the new regulations will be the sale of blunt wraps, which are tobacco leaves that need to be filled with something else.

Carroll suggested that blunt wrap products should be banned and the board agreed.

Rolling papers are another item that need to be addressed, specifically to take into account the new phenomenon of flavored rolling papers and whether the board might want to ban all rolling papers or just the flavored papers. Similarly, flavor enhancers for tobacco products also are an item that the board may want to regulate.

A new addition to the regulations seeks to ensure that an adult tobacco retailer (of which there are only two in the city) cannot be located within 25 feet of a regular tobacco retail store and that a retailer can have only one kind of license.

There also was a discussion about potentially limiting the number of permits for tobacco sales. There presently is a cap of 60 tobacco permits in the city, with no wait list, but there are only 57 active permits. However, the board could enact new regulations that could result in a diminishing number of permits if a current retailer either fails to renew their permit or turns it in without selling it.

“Any way that we can limit tobacco sales is the goal,” said Bunker, speaking in favor of enacting a regulation to bring the city’s cap under 60. Both Castanza and Louaddi also spoke in favor of a so-called advanced, or reducing, cap.

In another change, the new regulations would raise the minimum price for the sale of a single cigar from the present $2.50 to $2.90 and for a package of two cigars to $5.80.

The new regulations also make clear that discount sales of tobacco products, such as a “2-for-1” deal for example, are not permitted.

The board also reinforced that the fine for sales to minors is $1000 for a first offense, plus a suspension of a tobacco license for three consecutive days.

The fine for a second offense will be $2000 with a suspension of seven days and for a third offense, a $5000 fine with either a 30-day or a 60-day suspension.

The fine amounts are mandated by state law, but the local board has some leeway with the length of the suspension.

In addition, there are fines for other tobacco permit violations, besides selling to minors, that will not change from the present city regulations.

Buck informed the board that her office had received seven emails from residents in support of the new regulations. There were no opponents of the new regulations.

The board now will vote on whether to adopt the new regulations, which will be put into final form by Buck, at its next meeting in August.

The board concluded its meeting by taking up an application for two Body Art licenses, one for an Individual Practitioner License by Thao Nguyen and another for a request by Nguyen for a Body Art Establishment License by The Brow Chemist, which is the name of her business.

Buck informed the board that the necessary inspections of Nguyen and the business had been made and that everything was in order. The board members then unanimously approved granting the licenses.

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