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UMass Chan public health expert lauds success of cigar sales restrictions

Boston strategy removes inexpensive sweet tobacco products from retail stores

  UMass Medical School public health researcher Wenjun Li, PhD

Wenjun Li, PhD

Local cigar sales regulations similar to those recently enacted in Boston may complement existing and future FDA regulations and strengthen control over tobacco use among young people in this country, according to an editorial published online Nov. 30 in Public Health Reports, the journal of the U.S. Public Health Service. The article highlights the importance of local public health laws that supplement federal and state laws or regulations to reduce youth access to tobacco and other nicotine-delivery products.

“The power of community can and should be realized to improve the tobacco control landscape of our state as well as this country,” said UMass Medical School public health researcher Wenjun Li, PhD, who authored the editorial with co-investigators from the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards and the Boston Public Health Commission. Dr. Li, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive & Behavioral Medicine, has conducted extensive research into tobacco industry tactics to snare new smokers and how public health initiatives like the one in Boston can be effective antidotes.

The article details how a viable evidence-based regulation was conceived, developed, passed and implemented by the Boston Public Health Commission. It follows up on a study published in Tobacco Control earlier this year by Li et. al. which found that the 2012 Boston regulation that set minimum pricing and packaging requirements for cigars has reduced youth access to fruit-flavored cigars that are often a gateway to tobacco use at an early age.

“Since adoption of the Boston regulation, 133 additional municipalities in Massachusetts have adopted the regulation as of Oct. 25, 2016,” said Cheryl Sbarra, JD, senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, and co-principal investigator of the study. The agency is tracking the municipalities that have adopted such regulations across the commonwealth.

Boston’s first cigar-packaging regulation has produced promising results, as evidenced by increases in mean sale price, substantial decreases in the number of retailers selling single cigars, and reductions in disparities (by neighborhood, race and income) in young people’s access to cigars in neighborhood retail stores.

“We are encouraged by further evidence that thoughtful and targeted tobacco regulations have a significant impact on the number of teens and children who have access to tobacco,” said Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “The 2012 regulations have helped prevent many Boston youth from trying tobacco products during their teen years, significantly reducing their chances of becoming addicted to cigarettes in adulthood.”

The authors conclude that rulings like the Boston cigar packaging regulation have significant public health implications. "Together, a city and its residents can marshal their collective will to create effective local public health laws that protect young people from the harm of tobacco products,” they wrote.

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