NASHUA — An aldermanic committee is supporting a proposal to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 in the Gate City.
“This is not an overreach,” said Alderman Tom Lopez, Ward 4. He urged his fellow aldermen to consider the city’s public health, and the future of its children.
Although the New Hampshire Senate rejected a bill last year that would have changed the statewide smoking age from 18 to 21, municipalities may still adopt their own local laws in regards to cigarette use.
Dover, Keene and Newmarket are a few of the communities that have already made the change.
In Nashua, the proposed ordinance seeks to raise the age to purchase, use and possess tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine from 18 to 21; the initiative is being recommended by the aldermanic personnel and administrative affairs committee, however the full Board of Aldermen will still need to vote on the proposal.
“This is not a war on tobacco. It is not a war on convenience stores or the people who sell these products,” said Janet Valuk of Roy Street, a former health educator for Nashua schools. “This is in defense of the brains of our children and our young adults.”
Nicotine can harm adolescent brains — brains that are not fully developed until the age of 25, according to Valuk, adding the city has the opportunity to set a good example.
Although the committee is supporting the proposal, Alderman-at-Large Ben Clemons voiced strong opposition to the initiative.
“I think what this is going to do is make criminals out of 18-year-olds,” said Clemons, insisting that the change was unlikely to prevent youths from smoking or vaping.
Clemons said it is inappropriate to tell adults who can join the military, vote and get married that they cannot buy a cigarette.
“I have a big problem with that,” he said.
The owner of Two Guys Smoke Shop in Nashua, David Garofalo, also expressed concerns about the proposed ordinance.
“Nicotine is not the most addictive product there is — it is caffeine,” said Garofalo, stressing that vaping seems to be the most prevalent problem right now, not the smoking of premium cigars.
Dotty Oden, a member of the Nashua Board of Education, said city students are vaping throughout the day at the two high schools, and middle school students are also being introduced to it.
“We have a serious vaping problem at our two high schools,” she said, maintaining many parents do not understand or are unaware of the damage it can cause to teens.
Although the proposal will not eradicate the problem, Oden said it will send a message to students that the community wants to do what is best for its youth.
Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said the city’s police department has enough manpower to enforce the new ordinance if it is officially adopted by the full Board of Aldermen next week.
However, he explained that some discretion will be involved, and the department does not plan to raid any businesses as a result. There will be a lot of enforcement activity during the initial onset, said the chief.
If approved, the ordinance will be in place in about 90 days. A first offense carries a $50 fine, with a second or subsequent offenses carrying a fine of up to $100.