Cohasset to consider ban on electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, do not contain tobacco, tar, or any of the harmful chemicals packed into traditional cigarettes. But these modern-day nicotine delivery devices may soon be outlawed in certain parts of Cohasset.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, do not contain tobacco, tar, or any of the harmful chemicals packed into traditional cigarettes. But these modern-day nicotine delivery devices may soon be outlawed in certain parts of Cohasset.

The town’s board of health will ask town meeting voters on May 12 to amend the community’s smoking bylaws to ban the use of e-cigarettes in all locations where traditional cigarettes are not allowed. This includes business offices, restaurants, athletic fields, bars, train stations and other spaces where crowds typically gather.

“It’s a new-make tobacco product,” Cohasset health inspector Tara Tradd said of e-cigarettes.

If voters approve the new by-law, Cohasset would become the first South Shore town to implement the ban on e-cigarettes, according to the non-profit Massachusetts Municipal Association. Nineteen cities and towns in the state, including Boston, have adopted the ban by inserting e-cigarettes into their respective anti-smoking laws.

In recent years, state and federal health officials have raised concerns about the unknown effects of e-cigarettes. Tradd said scientists haven’t researched the products, invented in 2003, thoroughly enough to conclude whether they are harmful.

Many critics of e-cigarettes also claim the devices can lead non-smokers, including children, to smoke traditional cigarettes. Although there are nicotine-free e-cigarettes, many people use the devices to get their nicotine fix without having to inhale the chemicals from traditional cigarettes.

According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, 28 cities and towns in the state, including Kingston and Hanover, have adopted new laws restricting the sale of e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery products. Most of these changes prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

At the May 12 town meeting, Cohasset’s health department will also propose by-law changes that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. They also want to prevent the town’s three stores with pharmacies from selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Cohasset’s selectmen and advisory board have unanimously opposed the board of health’s proposed changes. Selectmen Chairman Ted Carr said the board was divided on the e-cigarette debate, but he said the members were wholeheartedly against any new restrictions on local merchants.

“I just think there are other ways to promote health without affecting the economy,” Carr said.

Health officials in Weymouth and Braintree said they haven’t considered any new restrictions on the sale or use of e-cigarettes. Gerald Maher, chairman of Marshfield’s board of health, said his committee hasn’t tackled the issue either, but he said he can understand the reasoning behind Cohasset’s proposals.

Although Maher said there is no proof that e-cigarettes cause harm, he said they could create disruption because they look so much like cigarettes.

By Patrick Ronan