December 2014 Newsletter

Center Technical Assistance Available after December 31, 2014
Newburgh, NY Considers Licensing Tobacco Retailers
CDC Survey Results: Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students Declining but Still too High
Westminster, Massachusetts’ Initiative to Prohibit the Sale of Tobacco Products
Senate Confirms New U.S. Surgeon General
New Center Publications

Center Technical Assistance Available after December 31, 2014

As many of you know, the New York State contract with the Public Health and Tobacco Policy Center (Center) ends December 31, 2014. New York expects to award and have in place a policy center contract (awardee to be determined) by March 2015. In the interim, the Center will continue to provide technical assistance to New York contractors and community leaders. Center staff will continue to support New York tobacco control staff, contractors and communities pursuing tobacco control policies during this interim period; however, because this technical assistance will not be funded, the scope of assistance will be limited. What does this mean? It means contractors will continue to have access to the Center’s website, written resources, and staff consultation (email and phone). Center staff will not be able to travel to contractors and community leaders, author extensive written work product or immediately update our materials and website to reflect changing status of laws, litigation and the like. We do intend to continue posting relevant federal and New York tobacco policy news to our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We encourage you to continue to contact us with your questions and updates on the progress in your communities! If we are unable to accommodate a particular technical assistance request, we may direct you to outside resources.

You may now begin to use our new email address: tobacco@tobaccopolicycenter.org. Our main telephone number will remain (617) 368-1465.

Newburgh, NY Considers Licensing Tobacco Retailers

The City of Newburgh, NY is considering a tobacco retail licensing system to reduce the density of tobacco retailers in the city. Increased density of tobacco retail outlets is correlated with increased tobacco use, including youth smoking. This is no surprise since the tobacco retail environment is largely controlled by the industry to recruit new (youth) smokers. The marketing within these stores leads to increased youth initiation and failed cessation attempts. The density and location of the marketing each influence perceptions and ultimately tobacco use rates. Reducing this density, such as by limiting the location and/or number of tobacco retailers, can be an effective tool to reduce youth exposure to tobacco point of sale marketing.

Tobacco retail licensing is a powerful and flexible tobacco control tool. A license grants permission to do something that would otherwise be prohibited. A tobacco retail licensing system requires retailers to obtain a license before selling tobacco products. These laws can be structured so that a license can be suspended or revoked if the licensee violates the conditions of the license, or other state and/or local law. (For more information about tobacco retail licensing, see Tobacco Retail Licensing: Local Regulation of the Number, Location and Type of Tobacco Retail Establishments in New York.)

Newburgh’s proposal would gradually reduce the number of tobacco retailers, restrict the location of new tobacco retailers, and provide local level enforcement of tobacco control laws. Specifically, beginning in March 2015, all retailers selling tobacco products would be required to obtain a local tobacco retail license. Existing tobacco retailers holding a valid state certificate of registration 180 days prior to the effective date of the law would be eligible for a new license. Thereafter, the number of tobacco retailers would be capped and gradually reduced by permitting the issuance of only one new license for every two that are revoked or not renewed. Additionally, after the first year the license requirement is effective, no new license would be issued to a retailer located within 1,000 feet of a school. Existing retailers, including those located with 1,000 feet of a school, would be able to annually renew their licenses. If there are more applicants than available new licenses in a given year, the proposal outlines the priority of license issuance: first to adult-only retailers; next to retailers that move tobacco sales from within 1,000 feet of a school to a location outside of the restricted zone; and thereafter by lottery.

The proposal would also prohibit the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 19 years. Preliminary studies of policies that raise the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21 years old have shown a greater decrease in smoking among high school students in communities that have implemented this measure, compared to neighboring communities that have not. Newburgh would be one of several municipalities in New York to increase the purchase age. New York City and Suffolk County recently adopted new laws raising the legal tobacco sales age to 21 years. Newburgh would join Nassau and Onondaga counties which maintain a minimum sales age of 19 years.

The City Council is expected to vote on the measure sometime in January 2015.

CDC Survey Results: Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students Declining but Still too High

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that tobacco use remains a major problem among U.S. youth. According to the 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) which was administered to 250 schools and more than 18,000 middle and high school students, nearly half of all high school students have tried a tobacco product and more than one in five high school students currently uses a tobacco product. Additionally, 12.6% of high school respondents reported current use of two or more tobacco products. Although younger children are less likely to try tobacco products, among middle school students almost one in five has tried a tobacco product and more than one in 20 currently uses a tobacco product.

Of the students surveyed, combustible tobacco use remains the most common type of tobacco use. In fact, 9 out of 10 of high schoolers who are either current tobacco users or have ever tried a tobacco product reported using a combustible tobacco product (primarily cigarettes and cigars). 30.1% of middle school respondents reported ever using a combustible product. This is particularly troubling as combustible tobacco use causes most tobacco-related disease and death in the United States.

These findings clearly demonstrate the need for comprehensive tobacco control and continued efforts to prevent tobacco use among youth. Most youth who currently use tobacco believe they can and will quit. Unfortunately, many do not–nearly 90% of all adult regular smokers begin by the age of 18. Even a single use of a tobacco product is associated with increased risk of becoming a regular user, and use of multiple products increases the risk for nicotine dependence, making it even more difficult for those students to quit. The report recommends full implementation of comprehensive tobacco control programs to continue reducing youth tobacco use.

For more information, visit the CDC’s November 14th Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Westminster, Massachusetts’ Initiative to Prohibit the Sale of Tobacco Products

In an effort to reduce youth tobacco use, the board of health in one small Massachusetts town considered, but ultimately dropped, a proposal to prohibit the sale of tobacco products in the town. Had the regulation been adopted, Westminster, MA would have been the first town in the country to prohibit the sale of tobacco products. Under the proposed regulation, the town’s eight local retailers currently selling tobacco products would have been required to stop selling tobacco products and no new retailers would have been permitted to sell tobacco.

The proposal was made public on October 27th and on November 12th Westminster, Massachusetts held a public hearing to discuss the proposal. Town residents reacted strongly. More than 1,000 individuals signed a petition opposing the proposed law and close to 500 attendees (including many non-residents) flocked to the public hearing. The voiced concerns appear to stem from misunderstanding about the scope or purpose of the proposal. For example, many residents were under the incorrect impression that the law would prohibit smoking in the town or designed simply to inconvenience tobacco consumers. Other concerns were centered on the perception that the Board of Health lacked the authority to implement the measure.  In reality, the proposal only addressed the sale, not the use, of tobacco products and is designed to curb youth initiation and stymied cessation attempts. Further, Massachusetts boards of health are empowered to adopt regulations that address public health issues such as youth tobacco use.

Westminster’s experience illustrates the power that strong community organization and mobilization can exercise over public policy debate. Prior to the hearing, trade and other organizations successfully organized opposition to the proposal. Importantly, the experience supports New York’s strong community education program, designed to foster informed discussions around and mobilize community support for effective tobacco control policies.

Senate Confirms New U.S. Surgeon General

A year after his nomination by President Obama, Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed as the new U.S. Surgeon General on December 15, 2014. Dr. Murthy is an MD and an MBA who practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School. He co-founded a clinical trials company, an HIV education organization and Doctors for America, an advocacy organization working “to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care.” National public health organizations expressed strong support for his nomination, which had been held up for months after the National Rifle Association pressured lawmakers by declaring that a vote for Dr. Murthy, who has supported gun-control policies in the past, would be counted against them.

Since Dr. Regina Benjamin resigned her post as Surgeon General in July of 2013, the office has been led by Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak. Dr. Murthy is expected to serve a four-year term in the post.

New Center Publications

The Center will publish two new resources before mid-January:

Advancing Tobacco Control: The New, the Known and the Next summarizes and includes excerpts from The Health Consequences of Smoking–50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General.  

Cigarette Tax Evasion in New York updates our technical report on tax evasion and its consequences for public health and policy.

Each of these resources will be published to the Center’s website and electronically distributed to BTC staff and contractors.