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By Chris Lisinski

TOWNSEND — As of Thursday, people under the age of 21 are no longer be able to purchase cigarettes, cigars or any other tobacco products in Townsend, and people of any age who want to purchase flavored tobacco products have to travel out of town to do so.

An update to the town’s tobacco bylaws kicked into effect Thursday. The new rules change the minimum legal sales age in Townsend from 18 to 21. Joan Hamlett, the town’s tobacco agent and director of the Boards of Health Tobacco Control Alliance in Leominster, said the decision is designed to protect teenagers from the detrimental effects of tobacco.

“There’s a lot of kids that are still in school at age 18 and they’re purchasing it for their friends still in school,” she said. “One of the reasons years ago that they raised the drinking age to 21 is that adolescent brains aren’t fully developed until the early 20s, and now there’s a lot of information that lungs aren’t fully developed until the early 20s, either.”

The new regulations also mandate that flavored tobacco products such as cigarillos and electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, can only be sold in “smoking bars and adult-only retail tobacco shops.” Since there are no such stores in Townsend, residents who want those specific types will have to travel to other towns. Hamlett said the nearest adult-only tobacco shop is Digital Liquids in Ayer.

That change, too, was made with the hope of decreasing tobacco use among young people. The regulation itself cites a number of academic and government studies as evidence for the efficacy — and health benefits — of such policies.

“Cigarettes have gone down and that’s great, but when you look at the use, it’s sharply increased in these other (flavored) tobacco products,” Hamlett said. “Tobacco used to be cigarettes, but now it’s a whole host of these other products.”

In addition to limitations on sales, the new rules stipulate that no permits to sell tobacco will be issued to a business within 500 feet of another business with an existing tobacco permit. Townsend is the first city to implement such a regulation, Hamlett said.

There are eight stores in Townsend that will have to adhere to the changes, Hamlett said. She has met with each one to explain the changes.

“We will be working with merchants to make sure they understand,” she said. “Sometimes the store owners are not even sure they have a flavored product with the way it’s packaged.”

Enforcement officials will issue fines of $100 for the first violation. If others occur within the same 36-month period, the second violation will carry a $200 fine and a seven-day suspension of the tobacco sales permit, and the third violation will carry a $300 fine and a 30-day suspension of the tobacco sales permit. Four violations will trigger a hearing with the Board of Health, who may fully revoke the tobacco sales permit.

With the bylaw, Townsend joins more than 100 communities across the state, including Boston, Lowell and Chelmsford, to set the minimum legal sales age for tobacco at 21. About 70 other towns and communities have limited the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult-only shops.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Senate approved a bill that would raise the statewide legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, but the bill has yet to hit Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

Follow Chris on Twitter and Tout @ChrisLisinski.

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