Chilmark recently became the first town on the Island to raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco products to 21. A policy was passed by the town board of health at its May 17 meeting.

In addition to increasing the age of purchase from 18 to 21, new regulations also limit the total number of tobacco permits in the town to three and prevent new tobacco retailers from opening within 500 feet of a school.

Currently the Chilmark Store, Menemsha Market, and Menemsha Texaco have permits to sell tobacco products in Chilmark.

The board of health initiative followed shortly after the owners of Menemsha Texaco decided to adopt the restriction independently. Effective May 1, the store announced a new policy raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21.

No cigarette sales to anyone under 21, now in effect throughout Chilmark. — Mark Lovewell

A sign posted at the Texaco notifies customers of the change. It reads: “With the state of Massachusetts on track to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and with a number of communities already doing so, we have chosen to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21 effective May 1, 2017.”

The sign also offers a simple rationale for the decision: “Why? Because we care about our youth.”

Katie Carroll, who with her husband Marshall Carroll, owns and operates Menemsha Texaco, a busy hub for boats, cars and people, said they felt the decision was a small but important step.

“Restricting access to folks until they are a bit older reduces the risk of our kids developing the life-threatening habit,” Mrs. Carroll said in an email to the Gazette. “I’ve only turned away two under-21s thus far and both agreed it was a good idea. I explained our reasoning was based on studies that show that raising access to age 21 puts legal purchasers outside the social circle of most high school students.”

She said they had received guidance from the Tobacco21 initiative and Bob Collett at the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Program.

Chilmark health agent Marina Lent praised the youth-oriented policy as an important prevention initiative aimed at the next generation. “The big push finally with cigarettes is to not start,” Ms. Lent said. “They’ve already turned some people away, and they’re very proud of themselves, and they should be.”

She continued: “This initiative that the Texaco took, they took on their own and independently. They said you know what, great if the town decides to pass a regulation to raise the age, but we’re going ahead, ready or not, here we come May 1.”

Mrs. Carroll, who is also chairman of the town board of health, said the board had been discussing the regulation change for about a year. “Chilmark decided to take the first step in what we hope will be an Islandwide initiative rather than wait any longer,” she wrote in the email.

Under federal Food and Drug Administration regulations, the national minimum age for tobacco purchases is 18. The regulations allow for towns to pass their own policies raising the age. Needham was the first town to enact such a regulation in 2005.

At the town level, boards of health each decide independently whether they will increase the minimum purchase age.

Most towns expressed support for Chilmark’s new policy. Jim Butterick, a member of the Oak Bluffs board of health, said he brought up a similar policy proposal two or three months ago. “Other members on the committee didn’t feel strongly about it,” he said, adding: “I will continue to press for that in Oak Bluffs. We’re a board of health, we ought to be concerned with the health of our citizens.”

In Edgartown, health agent Matt Poole said some kind of policy is under discussion. “We’re also considering first and foremost revising the age to 21. That’s been the extent of the conversation so far. There is an interest,” he said, adding:

“There has been some conversation over whether all six towns will join in or not.” He said he expects the board to resume this conversation before the end of June.

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley wondered about the efficacy of a policy enacted in pieces. “In Tisbury we’ve been having ongoing conversations, but doing something like that really has to be done on an Island-wide level, otherwise people can just go to another town to buy their cigarettes,” she said.

She added that Tisbury is considering whether they might go ahead without all of the Island towns on board, but that no decisions about next steps have been made yet.

Omar Johnson, health agent in West Tisbury, said his board appears unlikely to adopt a policy soon. “No similar policies are in the works in West Tisbury,” Mr. Johnson said. “It has been discussed in board meetings. It is not something our board is on board with . . . They feel that it’s not necessary, that it’s not something that’s going to have a huge impact.”

A spokesman for the Aquinnah board of health did not respond to requests for comment.