Board of Health Upholds Fines, Suspensions Under New State Tobacco Law

The Revere Board of Health (BoH) held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday, April 28, in the City Council Chambers.

On hand for the meeting were chairperson Dr. Drew Bunker, fellow members Dr. Craig Costanza and Nezha Louaddi, Director of Public Health Lauren Buck, Health Agent/Director of Inspectional Services Michael Wells, and Board of Health Clerk Paula Sepulveda.

The principal action taken by the board was its affirmation of the $1000 fines that were assessed by the 6-City Tobacco Initiative (6CTI) against eight local retail sellers of cigarette products pursuant to the new state law that greatly has enhanced the penalties for selling tobacco products to minors under the age of 21.

The new law provides a penalty of $1000 for a first offense, $2000 for a second offense, and $5000 for a third offense.

In addition to the hefty fines, businesses also face a suspension of their licenses to sell tobacco products for violations of the law. The length of the suspension for a first offense shall be determined by the local boards, but the new law mandates a suspension of seven days for a second offense and 30 days for a third offense.

The Revere BoH voted to adopt a suspension of three days for a first offense, which now will have to be served by each of the eight businesses in addition to the $1000 fines that each must pay.

The board heard from Bonnie Carroll of the 6CTI (which also includes Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Everett, and Winthrop), who outlined the provisions of the new law and explained how she conducted the recent compliance checks that resulted in the assessment of the fines against the eight retailers who sold tobacco products to minors.

She explained that either a 16 year-old boy or a 17 year-old girl went into each of the city’s 60 establishments that sell tobacco products and of those, there were eight that sold tobacco products to one of the minors.

Representatives from three of the eight stores appeared before the board to plead their case and offered explanations as to how the sales occurred. One retailer said the boy gave a date of birth of August 31, 1995, which would have made him 27 years old. Another simply asked for leniency.

However, Wells told the board that every establishment in the city was handed a copy of the new law. He further stated that it is the responsibility of each establishment to ask for a photo ID  from every purchaser of a tobacco product.

Carroll emphasized that it is the duty of the local boards of health to uphold and enforce the state law with regard to affirming the fines and the suspensions.

“Ordinarily, the fines and suspensions should be upheld by the local board of health,” said Carroll.

“We know it is a hefty fine, but we have a responsibility to enforce the law,” Bunker told the store owners. “My worry is that if we don’t follow this law, we might get in trouble. I apologize that you have to pay this fine under circumstances that are challenging.”

Buck then interjected.

“The reason the laws are so punitive is because the underlying rationale is we want to prevent children from picking up the smoking habit,” Buck said. “Each day in this country, 2500 under-age youths will try smoking, of whom about 400 will become long-term smokers and half of those will die from smoking-related causes.”

The board then voted 3-0 to uphold the fines and the suspensions.

The board also heard a presentation from three representatives of the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control (NMMC), entomologist Kimberly Foss, Field Technician/ Communications Liaison Kelsey Liakos, and District Director Barry Noone, via Zoom.

Foss presented an overview of what the NMMC does, which includes surveillance by means of virus-testing of larval and adult mosquitoes. She said the NMMC’s goal is to reduce mosquito populations with insecticides that have the least effect upon health, property, and the environment.

The larval surveillance program, which extends from early May to September 30, allows the NMMC to identify and treat mosquito breeding sites with the goal of reducing Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WVN).

The NMMC treats catch basins, freshwater ponds, and salt marshes. Foss emphasized that the pesticides used by the NMMC are precisely targeted for mosquitos and have no ill-effects upon the environment. She said the NMMC also tests for the presence of the viruses in birds.

Foss explained that local boards of health and school districts can ask for assistance from the NMMC in controlling mosquito populations.

In addition, she said there also is a process for private property owners to have their properties excluded from mosquito control.

Liakos informed the board that the NMMC’s redesigned website provides a wealth of educational information for residents.

She emphasized that even with the NMMC’s mosquito control program, individuals must take precautions on their own by removing water sources from around their homes, repairing screens, wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants when outside, and not being outside during times of high mosquito activity. She added that salt marsh mosquitoes fly and bite during the day, which requires extra vigilance and practices by individuals who live in those areas.

Bunker asked whether there is a general plan for Revere for this year. Foss responded that a city-wide spraying program only will be implemented if a virus is detected. She said that neither WNV nor EEE were detected in Revere last year, though the city was in close proximity to other communities where these viruses were found. She said local residents may call to have their properties sprayed after June 1.

The board also took up two other matters. The first was for the approval of two body art licenses for Brows by Camila.

Buck explained that two licenses are required, one for a practitioner license and one for the business license. Buck said staff from the Health Department had inspected the premises and that the business was in full compliance with the regulations.

The board voted 3-0 to approve the licenses.

The board also voted to grant waivers for three condominium complexes from the requirement that residential properties must provide heat to units in their buildings from September 15 through June 15.

Wells explained that the condo complexes, the St. George, the Breakers, and Ocean Gate, were constructed in the 1980-90s when it was typical for the same HVAC units to control both the heating and air conditioning systems.

He said that these condo complexes want to be able to switch their systems from heating to air conditioning in mid-May, rather than waiting until June, because there is more of a need for AC than heat in those buildings, which face south and tend to heat up because of the sun.

The board voted 3-0 to grant the waivers, though each of the condos must obtain an affirmative vote from a majority of their unit owners in order to implement the changeover.

Buck presented a summary of the department’s communicable disease monthly report. She highlighted that 114 cases of flu were reported in the city in the past month, with those afflicted ranging in age from six months to 92 years-old.

She said this figure is in keeping with the typical flu season and is in line with the rest of the Greater Boston area, which also saw a large increase in cases of the flu.

“We can generally attribute this increase to masks coming off,” Buck said. “Masks protect against both COVID and flu. We’ll continue to watch it, but the peak of the flu season most likely has passed.’

On the COVID front, Buck said there has been an increase in both the 14-day positivity rate and the seven-day case average rate of COVID infections in the city.

She said this is attributable to the highly-transmissible Omicron B variant, but added that despite the jump in the number of cases, there has not been an increase in hospitalizations.

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