Board of Health talks smoke shop regulations

Aug 8, 2019

The Board of Health met Wednesday to discuss, in part, what a smoke shop is or isn’t.

The discussion stemmed from concerns that New England Smoke Shop is too much like a convenience store because of the array of food and drinks it sells — even though the Board of Health issued the store a license to sell food. 

Bob Collett, the tobacco control division program director for the Barnstable County Department of Health, said he spotted several violations when he visited the store: insufficient signage, some tobacco products that were self-service, and a teenager who was allowed in.

The store owner’s lawyer, Brian Corey, Jr., denied these claims and offered to show the board video and photos from the time of Collett’s visit that would show the store was in compliance.

Chairman Amy Wiegandt argued that because smoke shops, which are not supposed to allow those under 21 to enter, are allowed to sell flavored tobacco, allowing them to also resemble convenience stores is unfair because convenience stores are not allowed to sell flavored tobacco.

Corey argued that the town’s laws do not prohibit the sale of other products. The regulation defines a smoke shop, in part, as an establishment “in which the sale of other products is merely incidental,” which, Corey said, leaves a great deal up to interpretation.

Additionally, Amine Nassif, the owner of New England Smoke Shop, has not been issued any formal notice of violations, and was not told in advance what the board specifically wished to speak to him about. He received a letter instructing him to attend the meeting “in regards to Smoking Regulations promulgated pursuant to the authority granted to the Wareham Board of Health by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 111, Section 31, that “Boards of Health may make reasonable health regulations.””

Wiegandt said that the other smoke shops in town do not sell these other items, which include coffee, slushies, and cat litter, and that the intent was that smoke shops only sold tobacco.

Throughout the hearing, various members of the board told Nassif that he had to choose whether he wanted to run a convenience store and stop selling flavored tobacco, or whether he wanted to run a smoke shop and stop selling other goods.

Corey pointed out that the merchandise in the store has not changed substantially since Nassif bought it from the previous owner, and that Nassif has maintained a retail food permit and is in compliance with those regulations.

The matter was not resolved.