City looks to cap smoke shops

CNHI/File photo/The Gloucester Board of Public Health is proposing to limit the number of shops in Gloucester that can sell tobacco and related products to 36.

The city of Gloucester is looking to clamp a cap on the number of stores that can sell tobacco and smoking paraphernalia that could be used for tobacco or marijuana.

The Board of Health is weighing a proposal that would limit the number of tobacco license holders in the city at any one time to 36. There is no such limit now. The order, which would be the latest amendment to a tobacco sales ordinance in effect since 1994, faces a public hearing before the board Thursday at 5:30 at the City Hall Annex at 3 Pond Road.

The amendment would include a provision stating that, if a permit is not renewed and a shop closes down, the license for that store would be taken back by the Board of Health and "permanently retired," cutting back on the number of available licenses as time goes by.

The order also calls for capping the number of "adult-only" tobacco or smoke shops that do not allow any customers under 21 to shop to five. Currently, the city —which again has no cap on the number of licenses — has just three such shops: Boston Smoke Shop on Washington Street, 3D Smoke Shop on Main Street and High Tides Glass Co. on Center Street.

All three focus on selling smoking paraphernalia such as glass pipes and other items. But Max Schenk of the city's Health Department noted that shops need a tobacco sales license to even sell paraphernalia, along with any "nicotine delivery" products from cigarettes to vaping materials.

Schenk said the age 21-and-older licenses are for shops that only sell tobacco and smoking-related products.

"If you're going to also sell chips and other things then you also need a retail establishment license," he said. Massachusetts state laws also limit the purchase of any tobacco and vaping products or recreational marijuana to customers 21 and older.

Dr. Richard Sagall, chairman of the city's Board of Health and president of NeedyMeds, said the proposal is simply aimed at "controlling the numbers" of stores selling tobacco.

"It's just so we don't get too many in town," he said, adding that the proposed cap of 36 licenses does not constitute a crackdown.

Schenk said the city now has 33 licenses for stores allowing sales of tobacco products. The licenses sell for $150 a year, according to a posting on the city's website, and must be renewed annually.

"There are a few less than (the proposed cap), so that would allow for at least a little business expansion,"  Sagall said.

While the push comes as the city is fielding applications for up to three retail marijuana shops — which could also offer a range of smoking paraphernalia — Sagall said the two issues are not necessarily intertwined.

"They're completely independent," he said. "We just want to get a handle on the numbers."

Schenk said that the provision that would "retire" licenses over time would clearly cut down on the number of shops if and when some of the tobacco-selling businesses close their doors and are not replaced at the same location.

"The one concern is for public health, and for the access of youths to any of these products," he said. "That's what we want to try to limit."

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

Talking tobacco

What: Public hearing on proposal to limit the number of shops in Gloucester that can sell tobacco and related products to 36. There are currently 33.

Who: Gloucester Board of Health. The hearing is part of a regularly scheduled board meeting.

When: Thursday, July 11, at 5:30 p.m.

Where: In the Cape Ann Transportation Authority training room at the City Hall Annex, 3 Pond Road.