The latest from the Natick Board of Health as discussed during its Nov. 13 meeting:
Grease trap talk
The Board mulled how to handle a grease trap requirement for the Eliot Center for Health and Rehabilitation at 168 West Central St., brought about by that outfit undergoing a change of hands about a year ago.
The town requires that “New or remodeled food establishments or food establishments with a change in ownership that prepare food and have a seating capacity of 100 seats or more must install an external grease trap.” This rule applies not just to traditional restaurants, but to other establishments that run kitchens.
External grease traps, which can be pricey, provide more oomph than internal ones like the facility has for filtering out junk from kitchens before it hits the town’s sewage system and potentially plugs up lines. The price and logistics of installing external grease traps have been known to stymie food service businesses looking to open in various communities.
Eliot Center requested a variance from the town to install a larger interior grease trap rather than an external one to “meet some measure of compliance,” Natick Director of Public Health Michael Boudreau during the Board of Health Meeting. It would be up to the Board to determine whether that would meet town requirements or at least serve as a stopgap solution until an external grease trap could be installed. Eliot would be in for some significant expense and plumbing work to add an external grease trap while the facility is perhaps not at full capacity (no Eliot representative attended the meeting).
The business that changed hands a year ago was in place before new grease trap regulations were approved in 2003, Boudreau said, explaining that that iteration of the facility wasn’t required to meet the external grease trap rules.
Board member Donald Breda suggested an extension of the town’s requirement for the external grease trap to show Natick is “sensitive to their problem, but that we’re also sensitive to the fact that there are regulations that require a grease trap for a reason.” During that extension period, the Health Department could work with the business to determine whether there’s any reason installing a grease trap in that particular location wouldn’t make sense, he added.
The Board denied the variance request, but agreed that Boudreau would issue an order to the business to install an external grease trap within a year, with a condition to upgrade the internal grease trap for now.
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Tobacco products—or not
The owner of retail adult tobacco store Royal Smoke Shop, which opened on Rte. 9 East in Natick in 2022, met with the Board of Health on Nov. 13 to appeal a Nov. 2 order that it had to stop selling flavored rolling papers, blunt wraps, and other “tobacco products” as defined under the town’s regulations and interpreted by a town health inspector.
Citing Chapter 19 under the Board of Health Regulations, Boudreau pointed to the definition of tobacco product:
The town’s interpretation of this rule outlaws the sale of flavored products that are used for vaporization or aerosolization, said Boudreau, who also cited the town regulation’s definition of “Flavored tobacco product” and prohibition against blunt wrap sales, as well as state law.
The basis of Royal Smoke Shop’s appeal was that based on the town’s definitions, his products aren’t actually tobacco products, and that past health inspectors were fine with them being sold. “If they are tobacco products then you have a bigger problem on your hand because the entire state, all the dispensaries are selling tobacco products without a tobacco license,” saidRoyal Smoke Shop owner Jaymin Patel, adding that you can currently buy such products from Natick’s recreational marijuana dispensary as well as online via Amazon and other retailers. They’re all under the impression that these are not tobacco products, he says, as is the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, which does not tax such products as they do true tobacco products.
Boudreau said, however, that the Cannabis Control Commission allows such products to be sold by dispensaries.
Patel also questioned definitions used by Natick, arguing that hemp-based wraps like he was selling are not blunt wraps as described in the town’s rules, as blunt wraps are defined as being made from tobacco. He pointed out that rolling papers generally are used for making joints, not for encasing tobacco. The idea behind banning blunt wraps, he said, is to reduce use of tobacco since the wraps are made from tobacco leaves.
There may be updated state regulations regarding tobacco products, Boudreau said, but that Natick is going off definitions used when it issued permits and model regulation code put out by the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards. “Mass General Law…does specifically state that flavored tobacco product sales [pre-manufactured cigarettes, etc.] are not allowed…,” he says. “Is there some wiggle room for argument that a flavored paper could be used for something else or is it a tobacco product?”
Patel said sales of such products actually aren’t a big part of his business, but he would like to at least be able to sell out his $3,000-$4,000 of inventory in coming months if they are truly banned. He says even though he can’t currently sell it at his store, he could sell it to Massachusetts customers online.
The Smoke Shop owner wrapped up his comments during the meeting with the Board of Health by asking “If the town and state is strict on physical stores within its premises, what are they doing to limit these sales at dispensaries but also at Amazon and online retailers? If it is such a case that it is a product that is causing kids to smoke more tobacco, why are we focusing the regulations only on physical stores instead of online stores where more people are getting things via ecommerce when there’s not even age checks like at our physical stores.”
Board members said their interest is in protecting the public health, though also being supportive of local businesses. They agreed to have the decision stand for at least a month until the Health Department gets a chance to check on the latest state thinking and intent on this subject.