DANVERS — The Board of Health has restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products at retailers starting Jan. 1, except at vape and tobacco shops that only allow those age 21 and above through the door.
The move puts Danvers on a growing list of more than 100 Bay State communities, including Salem and Beverly, that have enacted similar bans on flavored tobacco products, which health officials say are marketed toward youths.
"We have evidence this is being targeted to kids and we don't want it," said Peter Mirandi, Danvers' public health director.
Health officials cite studies that show a growing trend of young people using vaping and e-cigarette products, many of which come in candy, fruit or dessert flavors.
"We know they are marketing to kids," said Mark Carleo, Danvers' assistant director of public health, of the makers of flavored tobacco products. "We are doing what we can to keep them away from people who are vulnerable to them."
Both Salem and Beverly prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco except in adult-only smoke shops. Salem's regulations allow flavored tobacco sales in smoking bars.
Sharon Cameron, director of the Peabody Health Department, said the city's Board of Health may consider flavored tobacco restrictions within the next couple of months.
In Beverly, Director of Health William Burke said the city's tobacco sale regulations were amended about a year ago and went into effect on Oct. 1.
"Obviously we are not the first, and we are not the last," he said of communities that have flavored tobacco restrictions.
The Danvers Board of Health voted unanimously for the restrictions on May 3, after a public hearing. They extend to flavored e-liquids used for vaping and in e-cigarettes.
The restrictions also extend to traditional tobacco products, such as cherry-flavored chewing tobacco.
The board did not ban stores, gas stations or other tobacco retailers from selling menthol or mint flavored tobacco products. And vape shops and tobacco shops can still sell the flavored products as long as only adults over 21 can shop there, Mirandi said.
Danvers has two vape shops in town, and a cigar store in Danvers Square. Carleo said there are 27 tobacco vendors in Danvers.
All tobacco retailers would still be able to sell vaporizers and e-cigarettes, e-liquids, pods and other tobacco products with classic tobacco or menthol or mint flavors to those above the age of 21.
Shiv Patel, 21, whose mother, Darshna Patel of Danvers, owns The Village Food Store at 37 High St., said aside from the impact on their business, his mother "is totally with the change in the law because its preventing addiction" in young people.
It's the young people who look for flavored vape products, he said — many adults who vape don't care about the flavor.
The convenience store has a front counter display of a vaping product marketed as an alternative to cigarettes, a rechargeable electronic device that looks like a computer thumb drive and uses pre-filled cartridges. The store sells a mango-flavored cartridge for this device.
Federal funding prevents DanversCares from advocating for restricting the sale of flavored tobacco. But project director Peg Sallade said Danvers High junior Skaina Pierre presented information to the Board of Health about how flavored tobacco is targeted toward young people.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping and e-cigarette use has outpaced cigarette smoking among youths.
Sallade said the flavored products are confusing to kids, who may not be aware they are still being exposed to nicotine and other chemicals.
The Board of Health also heard from Dennis Lane, the executive director the Coalition for Responsible Retailers, a Billerica-based trade group representing tobacco permit holders around the state.
Lane said communities with restrictions on flavored vaping products have not seen a significant decrease in vaping in schools.
"We view e-cigarettes and vaping products as a tool to reduce smoking," and deaths from it, said Nicholas John of the Washington-based nonprofit think tank, R Street Institute, which has an office in Massachusetts. John also attended last month's Board of Health hearing.
He said his organization supports the increase in the minimum tobacco purchase age to 21. But, he said, flavored vape products are a safer alternative to cigarettes. John said tougher fines and penalties for stores that sell to minors would be a more pragmatic approach.