Amherst lawmakers unanimously adopted a resolution Monday to discourage tobacco use by town youth, but it contains none of the more controversial provisions – such as raising the age for legal purchase to 21 – that had been on the table.
“I still believe that the best way to work with our youth is not to replace their parents with legislation of government,” said Council Member Guy R. Marlette, who offered the amendment as a memo to the Town Board from him, Supervisor Dr. Barry A. Weinstein and Council Member Mark A. Manna.
The resolution directs the town’s Youth and Recreation Department, in conjunction with the Task Force for Healthy Communities and Healthy Youth, and the Youth Consortium, to create an incentive program for businesses that:
• Don’t offer tobacco or tobacco-related products for sale – or if they do, employ a universal proofing system.
• Don’t display advertising for tobacco-related products.
• Offer smoking-cessation programs for their employees.
Incentives could include plaques of recognition or including the business in Healthy Youth Advertising.
The approved resolution leaves it to the youth of Amherst to decide the best course of action, Manna said. “It’s not coming from the heavy hand of government,” he said.
Earlier, more than 20 people spoke passionately about a five-point proposal offered by Council Member Steven D. Sanders. In addition to raising the legal age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21, it would have:
• Banned tobacco products in stores that have pharmacies.
• Prohibited the sale of tobacco products within 1,500 feet of a school.
• Forbidden the sale of flavored tobacco products.
• Eliminated the use of electronic cigarettes where smoking already is prohibited.
Marlette also had challenged the provisions relating to retail businesses. “I don’t think the role of government is to determine what they’re legally able to sell,” he said.
Among those who spoke against Sanders’ proposal were representatives of convenience store chains that do business in the area, a state trade organization and proprietors of “vaping” businesses, whose products don’t universally contain nicotine or tobacco flavors.
“I’m actually in support of keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors,” said Douglas J. Galli, vice president and general manager of Reid Stores, which operates Crosby’s convenience stores. He’s also on the Sweet Home School Board.
Employees get training on tobacco sales, Galli said, and the chain spends almost $30,000 annually “to police ourselves.”
“We are very responsible retailers within your communities,” said Timothy Wiant, regional manager with Red Apple convenience stores. “Our tobacco sales are heavily regulated by federal and state governments,” who both conduct compliance checks using undercover minors to attempt purchases.
Williamsville School Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff was among supporters of the Sanders resolution. “I think we need to be working together. The Town Board is smart to be looking at this very closely,” he said.
So was Dr. Michael J. Littman, a Williamsville School Board member and an associate professor of business at SUNY Buffalo State. “It’s important to take a strong stand to protect our children against tobacco use,” he said. “Stores near schools are an important source of exposure.”
But perhaps the most impassioned words came from people who “smoke” e-cigarettes, flavored with juice or other ingredients, in their effort to kick the real things.
“I wanted to quit and I tried numerous times,” said Gregory N. Watkins, of Amherst, describing his efforts at going “cold turkey,” using prescription medications and early e-cigarettes. “Then I walked into a local Amherst “vape” store. That was three years ago, and I haven’t touched a tobacco cigarette since.”
Sanders later explained that his resolution wasn’t aimed at those using flavored vapors to quit smoking.
Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones raised red flags about the Sanders resolution, including the relative costs and benefits and the ability of police to enforce it.
“There will be a cost to this proposed local law,” Jones said. “You’re dealing with the tobacco industry. You’re dealing with the retail industry.”