DURHAM — Police plan to conduct undercover compliance checks in enforcement of a new ordinance expected to have a big impact in the college town by prohibiting anyone under 21 from buying cigarettes and vaping products.
The ordinance, passed unanimously by the Durham town council Monday night, was scaled back from its original form, which also targeted use and possession of nicotine products.
The ordinance requires merchants to ID people before selling nicotine products. Similar ordinances have passed in Dover and Keene.
Town Councilor and school board member Allan Howland said vaping has been an issue at Oyster River High School .
“It’s been a concern on the school side for at least a couple of years. An unbelievable growth in vaping has occurred,” Howland said.
New Hampshire teens vape more than teens anywhere in the country, according to studies. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey said 4% of high school students in the state vape at least once a day. The national average is 2.4%.
More than 40% of New Hampshire students reported they have at least tried e-cigarettes or vaping, according to the survey.
The Manchester chapter of the American Heart Association commended the town council. Nancy Vaughan, the association’s director of government relations in New Hampshire, wrote that cigarette usage has declined among teens, but that vaping threatens public health.
“We should do everything we can in New Hampshire to prevent young people from using tobacco products, reduce health-care costs and save lives,” Vaughan wrote.
Eighteen states, including Maine and Massachusetts, have raised the age to 21 for people to buy tobacco products, according to tobaccofreekids.org.
Howland said the ordinance also is meant to protect students at the University of New Hampshire, which has 12,103 undergraduates, including 2,731 freshmen.
Kenny Rotner, town council chairman pro tem and an at-large school board member who proposed the ordinance, said he plans to meet with UNH’s student senate explain the council’s action.
“We’re trying to get buy-in from the college students,” Howland said. “We’re not just trying to pass an ordinance to say we did it to make ourselves feel better. We actually do want to make some change.”
“It’s really not an ordinance to get people using vaping products in trouble. It’s targeted at sales,” Rotner said.
Rotner said police will likely enforce the new ordinance the same way they enforced alcohol and tobacco sales before, with systematic compliance checks.
Deputy Police Chief Rene Kelley said Tuesday, “We do compliance checks as a matter of routine and we will continue to do so.”
In September, police officers sent an undercover 17-year-old — who was trained by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission — into the six Durham locations that sell tobacco products to try to make an underage purchase.
Two locations failed the compliance checks