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Underage tobacco and vape sales rising on Cape and Islands, says tobacco control director

Brian Yurasits

Illegal sale of tobacco products, including vapes, to underage buyers appears to be rising on the Cape and Islands.

Nearly a third of Barnstable tobacco retailers were caught selling to an underage buyer during a routine inspection in January, according to Bob Collett, director of the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program.

“There's been a sharp rise in illegal sales, and we don't know what the explanation is,” he said.

The increase isn’t confined to Barnstable. He said it’s been happening for about a year in various places around the tobacco program’s service area, which includes Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Wareham, and Plymouth.

At least once a year, a tobacco control inspector visits every store that sells nicotine products, including vapes.

The inspector sends an underage buyer without ID into the store to make a purchase.

“The youth is given money to enter the retail establishment, ask for a specific product, and then if the sale is made, then they come out and describe what happened,” Collett said. “A report is written on the spot.”

Nineteen stores in Barnstable were cited recently, according to a Board of Health agenda.

“We derive no pleasure in finding retailers in violation,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to have everybody in compliance through education and continuous support.”

In the Barnstable inspection, the buyer was 18. Massachusetts raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 a little more than four years ago.

The state law went into effect on December 31, 2018. Federal law raised the age to 21 the following December.

Vaping products are regulated with tobacco. Most contain nicotine derived from tobacco.

In Massachusetts, fines for illegal sales start at $1,000 dollars for a first offense.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.