NASHUA — Gate City residents and business owners have strong — and divided — opinions on a proposal to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 to buy, use and possess tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine.
“People have come out and spoken for and against this,” said Alderman Ernest Jette, the prime sponsor of the proposed city ordinance.
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 regard to cigarette use.
The initiative is being recommended by the aldermanic personnel and administrative affairs committee, though the full Board of Aldermen has yet to vote on the proposal.
“Leave them alone. Stop meddling in their lives — they are adults,” Melissa Creem of Celeste Street told aldermen last week, saying 18-year-olds are old enough to go to war.
Andrew Olding of Royalcrest Drive agreed, telling elected officials that if they want young people to move to the city, they should be treating them like adults. If the majority of the state hasn’t adopted an older smoking age, Nashua should not be considering it, he maintained.
Proponents, however, argue that Nashua could be the model for the rest of the state, and pave the way for significant change regarding tobacco use. Dover, Keene and Newmarket are among the communities that have already made the change.
“We must protect our youth. We must protect their minds until they are fully developed. This is not about taking their freedoms away,” local activist Stacie Laughton of Nashua told aldermen.
Vaping has become the norm in city schools, according to some residents who no longer want teens to have access to e-cigarettes.
Mike Apfelberg of Edson Street said adolescents are not prepared to make some of these important decisions in life. He hopes that Nashua will lead a statewide movement to make the smoking age 21 in not just Nashua, but throughout New Hampshire.
“Nicotine is highly addictive,” said Janet Valuk of Roy Street, who noted Massachusetts raised its smoking age last year. In defense of the brains of Nashua’s children and young adults, she urged aldermen to adopt the proposal.
Others, including Justin O’Donnell of Main Street, said he started smoking when he was 16 and has been trying to quit for 13 years. O’Donnell said city youth would still have access to purchasing cigarettes or vaping products online, regardless of a local age restriction.
“Emotions don’t make for good public policy,” said O’Donnell, who opposes the initiative.
No one is questioning the vaping problem in Nashua, said John Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Stores and Energy Marketers Association. However, he added the proposed policy would not fix the problem, since there would still be the loophole of purchasing cigarettes or e-cigarettes in other communities nearby.
Instead, the proposal will harm convenience stores in the Gate City because those customers will be going elsewhere to purchase not only cigarettes, but bread, milk and other products as well, he said.
Aldermen did discuss the possibility of amending the proposed ordinance to remove the possession element, but no decisions were made last week. The proposal will go back to an aldermanic committee for further review.