Young smokers in Andover will soon have to look elsewhere to buy tobacco.

Starting Feb. 1, the legal age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco and nicotine products in town is increasing from 18 to 21.

New regulations approved by the Board of Health will also limit where tobacco can be sold in Andover.

“I think Andover has always been a progressive community as far as public health goes,” Health Director Tom Carbone said last week. “The idea of looking to raise the minimum age of tobacco purchases is something that is based on statewide trends, and something that will come sooner or later, at least at a state level.”

Andover joins more than 30 communities across the state in raising the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18. While some communities such as Newburyport and Watertown have increased the legal age to 19, others like Braintree, Malden, Melrose and Newton have upped the law to 21 in the past year.

Lawrence is currently weighing a proposal to restrict tobacco sales to those under 21 as well.

In November, David Proler, district manager of VERC Enterprises, which owns two of Andover’s 14 tobacco licenses at gas stations on Lowell Street and River Road, argued that raising the legal age to purchase tobacco by three years would have adverse implications for the community.

“This pushes the younger members of our community in different directions,” he said. “Individuals who wish to purchase tobacco will find a means to purchase it.”

Wanda Vidal, manager of the VERC West Andover and Dunkin’ Donuts at the 139 River Road location, agreed when contacted last week. 

”This will really hurt business,” she said. “Many of our customers who buy tobacco are 18 to 20 years old, and now they’ll just go to other towns. We’re right next to Lawrence. They’ll just go there to get it.”

But the Board of Health pointed to the potential health benefits of increasing the age, with some officials arguing they believe restricting young people’s access to tobacco will deter them from becoming smokers.

The new regulations will also prohibit the sale of tobacco within 500 feet of a school and restrict tobacco sales at health care institutions, including pharmacies and medical centers.

CVS, the only full-scale retail pharmacy in Andover, already eliminated tobacco sales at all of its stores as a corporate-wide policy last year. And there are currently no tobacco retailers within 500 feet of a school.

The number of tobacco sales permits will also be capped at the current total of 14 under the changes .

The new regulations are said to be a proactive step, rather than a reactive one.

At one of its first meetings on the idea in August, Assistant Health Director Joanne Martel cited a hookah lounge that sought to open in Andover early last year after the applicants saw that the town did not regulate their operation. 

“We don’t have a lot of the businesses and may not have a lot of these issues coming up, but they will,” she said. “Like the hookah lounge — they looked around to see who didn’t have regulations, then they showed up. I think we need to be in the forefront again in the Merrimack Valley. We need to show that it can be done, because other communities have done it and it’s where tobacco is going.”

The hookah proposal was ultimately rejected by the town, and the Board of Health has since adopted a complete ban on hookah lounges in Andover. Methuen, meanwhile, has approved the operation of a hookah lounge.

Carbone said the Board of Health did not need Town Meeting approval to adopt the new health regulations. Following a legal advertisement summarizing the changes last month, the regulations are now simply filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection and go into effect next month. 

Copies of the new regulations can be obtained at the Andover Board of Health office in the Town Offices at 36 Bartlet St. or by calling the office at 978-623-8295.


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