×

For teen smokers, N.H.’s ‘Live Free or Die’ motto says it all

  • A sign in a smoke shop on Loudon Road warns people under 18 are now allowed inside. Lawmakers in the State House are considering a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21. GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff

  • The outdoor sign at a vape store on Loudon Road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Azlynn Shaikh, 18, vapes inside of Smoker Choice on Loudon Road. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Azlynn Shaikh, 18, vapes inside of Smoker Choice on Loudon Road in Concord. Shaikh would be affected if the smoking law would be raised to 21 in New Hampshire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Azlynn Shaikh, 18, vapes inside of Smoker Choice on Loudon Road in Concord. Shaikh would be affected if the smoking law would be raised to 21 in New Hampshire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Azlynn Shaikh, 18, vapes inside of Smoker Choice on Loudon Road in Concord. Shaikh would be affected if the smoking law would be raised to 21 in New Hampshire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Monday, January 29, 2018

Our license plate was bound to come up.

Our license plate, with its “Live Free Or Die” motto running across the top in green letters, always comes up when the topic is personal freedoms. We heard it when lawmakers wanted us to buckle up, then again when they wanted us to put a helmet on,
and then again when they wanted us to get off the phone while driving.

This time, legislators have introduced a bill that would raise the smoking age – including for vaping – to 21, and it’s no surprise that smoke shop owners and those in their late teens think that’s a really bad idea.

“Noooo,” Azlynn Shaikh said when I told him what the Legislature was considering. “They should not do that. It will hurt our business. That’s bull----. A lot of our customers are 18 or 19 years old, and I would still vape.”

Shaikh lives in Canterbury. He’s 18, the son of Lee Shaikh, the owner of Smoker Choice on Loudon Road, which is where I found them both on Friday.

This is a potential two-punch combination to Azlynn’s gut, because he’s a daily vapor whose family business greatly depends on its sale of vaping equipment.

The smoke streamed from Azlynn’s nose after a deep pull on his mod, making him look like a fire-breathing dragon. Strawberry milkshake, he said.

“Vaping isn’t really that bad for you,” Azlynn reasoned. “It’s better than cigarettes. They’ve gotten a lot of people off of cigarettes.”

No one at least 18 years old who uses tobacco will think this is fair. The arguments are obvious and used more often than a Bic lighter.

If you can die for your country during war, you should have the right to smoke. If you can vote, you should have the right to smoke. If you can drive, you should have the right to smoke. If you’re old enough to attend college, you should have the right to smoke.

As Lee Shaikh told me at his shop, “It’s like taking away your rights, your privileges. If you allow them at 18 and say, ‘Get the hell out of the house and do what you want to do,’ then they should leave you alone.”

The “they” are lawmakers like Democratic state Sen. David Watters and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican. Finally, young smokers say, we find some common ground, some bipartisanship, and this is where our Legislature goes?

Stripping away a right that’s been in place since anyone can remember? In the Granite State of all places?

“That’s ridiculous,” said 20-year-old Devon Loving of Laconia. “I already have the right to buy cigarettes, so why take it away? I have no clue. I think they’re trying to put shops like this out of business. I’ll just get someone of age to buy them for me.”

Nineteen-year-old Caleb Leighton of Laconia was with Loving at Smoker Choice and told me, “I think it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s like saying once you turn 21 they move drinking alcohol to 25. You can’t just do that. Technically, I’m an adult. If I can be charged (with a crime) as an adult, I might as well be able to buy stuff that adults can. I’m an adult, yet I can’t buy smoking accessories? It’s not right.”

The issue is health, of course. The health of young people in that gray area of life, where immaturity often rules inside grown bodies.

“We’re talking about saving thousands of lives over a lifetime,” Watters previously told Monitor. “If people don’t start smoking by the age of 21, it’s very unlikely they will ever start.”

But does that matter? Is that the New Hampshire way? Has Watters looked at his license plate lately?

“I think they’re over stepping their boundaries,” 37-year-old Derek Bailey of Concord told me while shopping at Smoker Choice. “We have a lot of problems we should be focusing in on now. The opioid epidemic and in Merrimack the uprising of meth. There are a lot more things to worry about than raising the smoking age.”

Some saw things differently, saw the proposal through a different lens because of personal experience. At New York Smoke and Vape Shop, directly across from Smoker Choice, a poster of a girl vaping filled the window, facing Loudon Road. She looks like a high school student, and the message – about marketing to young people – was clear.

Outside in the parking lot, I found Tyler Sullivan of Henniker. His grandmother, Barbara Russell, died on Aug. 14, 2016 – Sullivan knew the exact date – from lung cancer, caused by decades of smoking cigarettes.

Sullivan misses her.

“I grew up with her,” Sullivan, who vapes occasionally, told me. “She was always around, funny, hilarious sense of humor, and she had no filter, either. She was like a teenager.”

She died at 66, which is why Sullivan takes a hard-line stance when it comes to cigarettes.

“I don’t even support the whole selling of cigarettes,” Sullivan told me. “People think it’s cool. It’s cool until it kills you.”

The data isn’t in yet on vaping. There’s nicotine but no tar, and this has become a rallying cry for those who defend the practice. While lawmakers say vaping might lead to cigarettes, vapors say the practice helped them quit smoking, serves as an alternative.

Ryan Talbott of Hillsboro says he began smoking at 8 years old. By the time he was 22, he says he was nearly dead. Now, as a vaper, he can taste his food again. Recently, he said an English muffin tasted great.

“I have taste buds, and before they were all covered up,” Talbott told me. “My lungs got real bad eventually, and now I’m exercising and eating better and I quit cigarettes. There was a lot of damage real quick, but I’m back to vaping and I’m doing everything.”

Lee Shaikh sees an exodus by young people if our law changes, telling me, “We already have a low younger generation number, and now we’re forcing them to leave. They’ll be leaving because it’s not much fun and not a cool state. They’ll be going to different colleges, getting educated, and I will be paying some other state for my kids.”

Then, his attention turned to our license plates.

Always does.

“We say ‘Live Free or Die.’ We don’t even pass the seatbelt law, we allow no helmets. What the hell is that?” he said.