The Bedford Board of Health this week appointed its new regional tobacco control agent.
Marisa Morello now covers a tobacco control collaborative that comprises Concord, Lexington, and Wilmington, as well as Bedford. Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, said she engaged Morello through her connection with the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program.
Morello explained that her responsibilities are to enforce state and local tobacco control laws and regulations, focusing especially on prohibited sales to minors and flavored tobacco products, which are illegal in the state.
She outlined her specific duties, beginning with visits to retail tobacco outlets, “mainly just for education and building relationships and maintaining a presence in the stores.” Morello said she plans to start these visits next week.
Then there are the actual inspections, including “making sure there is proper signage, and that permits and licenses are up to date.”
Morello said another part of her job is to recruit and train people between the ages of 16 and 20 who enter retail establishments “like a secret shopper” and try to purchase tobacco products, which are prohibited to that age cohort.
Flavored tobacco products are a major challenge, she said. “Part of the educational process is why we are trying to keep flavors away from teens – because that’s what hooks them.”
State-mandated fines have increased from $100, $200, and $300 to $1,000, $2,000, and $5,000 for first, second, and third offenses, respectively. Morello said second and third offenses are accompanied by suspension of the tobacco sales license; the local board can suspend the license for the first offense.
Morello, who said she earned a master’s degree in public health, said she became interested in the inspector’s post through her involvement with volunteer committees, particularly young people. She said she was part of a panel in North Reading to determine middle school students’ social and emotional needs.
“I’m deep into public health, and always have teens and their health in mind,” she told the board.