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Differing opinions on tobacco ordinance

Telegraph photo by ADAM URQUHART Elm Street Middle School displays a “Drug-Free zone” sign out front of the school, making it clear officials have no tolerance for drug activity, including nicotine – the addictive chemical in tobacco and related products. City leaders are considering raising the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21.

NASHUA – It’s one thing for a student to daydream with their head in the clouds, figuratively speaking, but it’s drastically different when students literally have their heads surrounded in a cloud of smoke or vapor from nicotine products.

That’s why city officials want to raise the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21. Officials decided to table the ordinance relative to raising the age for tobacco products until April in an effort to allow for more public input.

Officials discussed the ordinance, O-19-037, during the Monday Personnel and Administrative Affairs Committee meeting. If approved, this law would raise the age to legally purchase use or possess tobacco and e-cigarettes in Nashua from 18 to 21.

Alderman Ernest Jette introduced the legislation, while Alderman Tom Lopez is now endorsing it.

Jette said he introduced this ordinance because of the harmful effects that tobacco and tobacco-related products cause. He cited other cities in the state that passed similar legislation, such as Dover and Keene. He learned vaping had become a problem in Dover, which led to it passing, with Keene following in line.

“I learned that allowing people to buy tobacco and tobacco-related products as young as 18 enables even younger people to obtain this product, and I learned that the younger brain is not fully developed, they tell me, until the early 20s,” Jette said. “The younger people whose brains are not fully developed cannot fully appreciate the decision they make when they begin to consume these products.”

Jette believes anything officials can do to prevent young people from becoming addicted to these products is something they should do. He said that is why he introduced the ordinance.

However, Board of Aldermen Vice President Michael O’Brien believes this issue creates a bit of a conundrum. He cited the fact that 18-year-old men must still register with the Selective Service System, meaning there is a possibility they could be sent to war.

Aside from that argument, O’Brien said he will not go out and tell people exactly what to do with their particular lives. He also raised the question of what would then happen if this ordinance did go into effect, and a teenager drove to Merrimack and bought cigarettes legally, drove back through Nashua, and was seen by a police officer smoking in traffic. O’Brien wonders if this would then be a chargeable offense to stop that vehicle.

“I think we’re open for a moral issue, I caution,” O’Brien said. “I caution that I think we’re opening up a kettle of worms.”

O’Brien said he would much rather be spending city money to advocate for people to stop smoking instead. He said the issue is getting a little complex and that this would be a better way to go about things.

States surrounding New Hampshire have already passed legislation raising the age to 21. According to www.tobaccofreekids.org, as of March 1, there are seven states who have done so, including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine and, most recently, Virginia which will be effective July 1. Additionally, the organization states at least 440 localities have also raised the tobacco age to 21.

Jette said he understands O’Brien’s perspective, but still believes those difficulties are all manageable.

“The idea of an 18-year-old being a legal adult is true, but we recognize that people at 18 don’t have the judgment of people that are older,” Jette said.

However, Board of Aldermen President Lori Wilshire wonders if this is really going to stop someone from smoking. She said these teens can still just leave town to by their cigarettes.

“I think it’s good that we want to stop kids from smoking, but I don’t know that this is going to get us there,” Wilshire said.

Lopez said this does not need to be a moral issue, but should be a practical one.

“When we have people that are willing to stand up and defend their country, we can point them at the enemy and tell them who it is,” Lopez said. “When someone is facing addiction they become their own enemy, they have to fight themselves, and that’s something that doesn’t necessarily manifest right away. It’s something we have to take a longer look at. If we’re ever going to move past the crisis of the month, we need to start taking a longer term approach to what is science telling us about addiction, what is it telling us about brain development.”

“If we all agree that these things are bad and that kids shouldn’t be getting them, anything we can do to discourage a kid from starting, I think we should do,” Jette added. “And ‘yes,’ they can go to Hudson, they can go to Merrimack, unless Hudson passes this, unless Merrimack passes this.”