By Lissa Capobianco
Matt Garry of DePaolo Middle School was just one of over a dozen students from the STEPS Youth Council who stepped up to the podium Monday night before the Southington Town Council, proposing an ordinance that would prevent convenience stores from displaying tobacco or nicotine products in areas where underage customers can view them.
“Even though we’re kids, we can still make a big difference,” said Garry, who is currently in eighth grade. “We just thought it would help influence kids who would come after us.”
Garry, along with his fellow members of the Youth Council and members of the STEPS Advisory Board, worked together through research and collaboration with the Ordinance Committee to draft the proposal, which also calls for tighter restrictions on signs that advertise alcohol specials. The Town Council will vote on the proposed ordinance after a public hearing scheduled for February 10.
“The reward for [the kids] is going to see this stuff be put into place,” said AJ Garstang, who serves as an advisor for the Youth Council.
The project started last year when the Youth Council learned about ordinances from senior members and Town Councilor Chris Palmieri, who also serves on the STEPS Advisory Board and the Ordinance Committee. Members of the Youth Council presented four ideas to Palmieri and discussed the effects and limitations to each one. After the discussion, the Youth Council narrowed down their ideas to two and conducted a presentation before the Ordinance Committee in August.
“I think it’s really interesting to see the process,” said Evelyn Ciaburri, who serves as an adult advisor for the Youth Council.
“It’s been an awesome opportunity for the kids,” added STEPS Coordinator Kelly Leppard, who, along with Ciaburri, worked with other state coalitions to find towns that created similar ordinances.
The Youth Council spent months gathering research before completing a finalizing the ordinance with Town Attorney Mark Sciota. Upon their research, the students found a Connecticut court case, which upheld the decision that requires retailers to place tobacco products behind counters and requires customers to have contact with a salesperson before purchasing them. The Youth Council’s ordinance proposed that besides tobacco products, all electronic e-cigarettes and tobacco delivery products as well as devices including bongs, rolling papers and pipes, should be placed in an area of the store away from public access such as behind the counter.
“We believe that in order to truly protect Southington residents and prevent tobacco and e-cigarette use, tobacco delivery products and e-cigarettes should be behind the counter with the cigars and cigarettes too,” reported members of the Youth Council during their presentation, adding that displaying the paraphernalia in clear sight sends the wrong message to local youth.
Another important step in the project involved determining whether or not local gas stations and convenience stores displaying paraphernalia in clear sight served as a prevalent issue in town. During a risk assessment of these stores, the Youth Council and the Advisory Board discovered that nearly every store sells e-cigarettes and rolling papers. They also discovered that most stores sell the e-cigarettes right on the counter, and ten stores sell hookahs. Their report also mentioned that five gas stations sell everything on the list, and ALTA and Derynoski Elementary School are located near two of these five gas stations that sell everything on the list.
During the meeting, the Youth Council also presented a proposed ordinance concerning alcohol advertisements. Members said all signs that advertise drink specials, including “happy hour” ads must indicate that only individuals age 21 and over can take advantage of such specials.
“It’s things that they see every day,” Ciaburri said. “They are exposed to all of this.”