DURHAM — The town council in Durham has been considering an ordinance that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, use or possess tobacco and vaping products.
Deputy Police Chief Rene Kelley of the Durham Police Department says enforcing the use or possession element of such an ordinance would be difficult.
Durham is the home to the University of New Hampshire. This fall, there were 2,731 new freshmen enrolled at the college and a total of 12,103 undergraduates, according to school statistics.
“We have made it quite clear to the town council that it would be nearly impossible to enforce, especially vape materials, and have asked them to consider how enforcing the possession ordinance could clog an already overburdened court schedule,” Kelley said on Tuesday morning.
Police officials in Durham say a possession charge would likely be dismissed by a judge because of the petty nature of the offense.
Kelley said he believes the council will ultimately adopt an ordinance that makes it illegal for stores to sell tobacco and vaping products to people under the age of 21. A similar ordinance is in place in neighboring Dover and is enforceable, police officials say.
Town Administrator Todd Selig confirmed on Tuesday evening that all references to possession within the ordinance are now removed at the recommendation of police officials and approval by the council.
That leaves the purchase and use of tobacco and vaping products by people under the age of 21 on the table for discussion.
A public hearing on the potential nicotine ban was held Monday night. That hearing started at 10 p.m.
UNH Alumnus Daniel Day was one of the speakers. Day said he opposes the ban as a whole and if town officials are serious about the dangers of smoking and vaping, they should be focusing on education in the schools as opposed to the use of force on grown adults.
“I don’t think it’s up to the town government to be making these kind of health choices, especially when this is a college town,” Day said.
On Tuesday, UNH students eating lunch at the Memorial Union Building were split when asked what they thought about a prohibition on the sale of tobacco and vaping products to people under 21 years old.
Maya Murphy is a sophomore from Boxborough, Mass. Murphy doesn’t vape but said people she knows in her home state are upset about the vaping ban there.
Murphy said she thinks UNH students would feel the same way if a town ordinance is passed in Durham prohibiting sales of tobacco and vaping products.
“I think people might get pissed off about it,” Murphy said.
Taylor Latter is a junior from Sturbridge, Mass. She said her older brother started smoking in college and still smokes today.
Latter said an ordinance preventing the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21 could help college students help themselves.
“We’re kind of kids anyways,” Latter explained. “We’re in college just figuring things out.”
UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said their department enforces all Durham town ordinances on campus and will work with town officials once a decision is made.
“Once the ordinance is passed, we will consult with the town to determine how we can best support the enforcement of the ordinance. I’m sure prevention and education will play a key role in the compliance efforts,” Dean said.
The next town council meeting in Durham is scheduled for Nov. 18 and the board will be bringing up the matter again at that meeting.