WEBSTER – The Board of Health’s decision last month to lower the legal age for tattooing from 18 to 14 caused a national media conversation on the topic, with strong positions pro and con.
The board discussed that decision at its meeting Monday evening because it had received “verbal abuse regarding our vote,” said Chairman David J. Zalewski, “We were getting a lot of flak, and there was rumor of a petition circulating.” He said that unless someone brings it up as a motion, however, “I’m going to consider the matter closed.”
Board member Michael A. Stelmach, who had initiated the age-14 minimum, asked to make a statement as to why he had made that proposal. “I did the best I could for the people of Webster,” he said. “Our concern is health. The morality of it is up to the parents and the children.”
Mr. Stelmach said he had interviewed ten people about the decision. “Six people said we hit the nail on the head, and four said that’s too young and we should take a step back.
“People are fed up with government,” he added. “Let’s get away from big government, have smaller government, let people make a choice.
“That’s why I went to 14. If we’re concerned with health, that concern is taken care of.” It’s now up to parents and legal guardians to give their consent, he said. And if they do, kids can now get that “butterfly” tattoo from a clean establishment.
The ruling requires that teens 14 to 17 must have the consent of and be accompanied by an adult guardian to obtain a tattoo in a licensed establishment. The measure was precipitated by the number of young people in town obtaining illegal “kitchen tattoos,” which can result in scarring, infection, and various diseases.
Following Mr. Stelmach’s comments, Chairman Zalewski did make a motion to bring the age back to 18. The motion was not seconded and Health Agent Cathleen Liberty noted that a change would require another public hearing. Mr Zalewski, who had voted to retain the 18-year age limit, explained he made the motion because he wanted to “show the press and the board that when my board makes a decision I don’t agree with I don’t hold it against them. He said he supports the board, and wants the public to know the board is solid, and there are no hard feelings. He subsequently rescinded the motion.
Board member Nancie Zecco reiterated Mr. Stelmach’s position that last month’s decision was a public health matter. Ms. Zecco had voted in favor of reducing the legal tattooing age, but not necessarily to as low as 14. “We did our jobs,” she said, “and we brought public awareness to the issue. People now have a better understanding of the safely issues that come with illegal tattooing done in someone’s kitchen.”
And so, the board’s decision stands.