HAVERHILL — The age for purchasing tobacco products in Haverhill bumps up from 18 to 21 as of Dec. 15. The change comes as a result of the city's Board of Health having voted in a new set of regulations governing the sale of tobacco products in Haverhill, following a public hearing held on Monday in City Hall.

Board member Peter Carbone said he was surprised at the large turnout, which included representatives from many small retail stores in the city as well as representatives of a retailer association and tobacco control coalition.

"I think we all felt that we accomplished what we set out to do," Carbone said about the Board of Health. "We looked at it purely from a health perspective and felt it was past time for Haverhill to join the ranks of 180 other communities, including Methuen, Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, who have similar or the same regulations in place."

In addition to upping the age of purchase from 18 to 21, the new regulations limit the number of locations where tobacco products can be sold; limit the sale of so-called "blunt" wraps; cap the number of smoking shops allowed in the city; and limit the sale of flavored tobacco products, in addition to other regulations.

The city's Board of Health also includes Dr. Alex Matolcsy and board chairperson, Dr. Romie Mundy.

"The regulation passed unanimously, except for one item, banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and paraphernalia, which was a sticking point for Dr. Mundy," Carbone said. "He looked at it from an economic viewpoint as there were more than 20 retailers at the meeting."

All other details contained within the new regulation passed unanimously, Carbone said.

He said that during the roughly two-hour long public hearing, a number of representatives from local retail businesses spoke out against upping the purchasing age from 18 to 21 on economic grounds, and also objected to limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, indicating it will cut into their sales.

Although the new purchase age goes into effect Dec. 15, the remaining sections of the regulation will not take effect until Jan. 15, 2019.

The new regulations are intended to reduce the health and economic burden of tobacco use by preventing young people from starting to smoke, helping current smokers to quit, and protecting children and adults from secondhand smoke, according to Diane Knight, director of the Northeast Tobacco Free Community Partnership, a program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"These new regulations will help prevent nicotine addiction among young people, as nicotine is harmful to the developing brain," she said. "The earlier a person starts smoking, the harder it is to quit." 

Carbone has said that if people don't smoke by the age of 21, they will probably never smoke.

"If we can help people stay healthy by keeping smoking materials out of the hands of people under 21, it would greatly reduce the chances of them not smoking at all, and eventually save all of us millions of dollars in medical bills," he said.

Haverhill's new regulation on the tobacco purchase age takes effect more quickly than a new state law, which will roll out over the next few years.

Under a new state law, the age for purchasing tobacco products will go to 19 this Dec. 31, then age 20 the following Dec. 31, then finally age 21 a year after that.