PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health approved amendments to the body art regulations but will continue to not allow minors to get tattoos.
After hearing from some tattoo shop owners Wednesday during a public hearing, the board voted to approve amendments to the "Rules and Regulations Pertaining to the Practice of Body Art" without changes to their original amendments.
"Thank you for coming in and you educated us on what you are dealing with and have made some very good points," Chairman Alan Kulberg said.
The board opened up the floor to the public and first heard from April Shepard, owner of Rock'n Ink at 1500 East St., who asked the board to consider allowing tattoo shops to tattoo minors with permission from their parents or guardian.
"At that age they can get their permit, they can drive, they are capable of working, and have a little more independence," she said. "I think 16 is reasonable."
As it stands to get a tattoo from a shop in Pittsfield you have to be 18 or older. The city only allows minors to get limited piercings with consent.
Shepard said her main concern was kids getting tattoos from amateurs in unsafe conditions. She said these amateurs often work with unsanitary tools and know little about bloodborne pathogens.
"If my own children went to an underground artist that was not licensed or in an unclean facility I would be upset," she said. "When they could get something professionally done."
She hoped that if minors had this outlet they would be less likely to go somewhere else. Shepard said this is the practice in other communities.
She added that this also allows tattoo shops the opportunity to fix botched tattoos minors may have had done unprofessionally.
"There is a local artist that has been working out of his home and there are a lot of young kids coming in my shop wanting to get their stuff fixed," she said. "I would like to be able to help with some of these mistakes."
Kulberg said this concern never dawned on him.
"We haven't really considered kids going to someone and getting botched or getting tattoos in cosmetically sensitive areas," he said. "We are making a value judgment here."
Shepard said she did not think kids younger than 16 should be allowed to get tattoos and noted she would never give a minor even with a parent's consent a face tattoo.
The board also heard from Wes Lamore, owner of Intradermal Designs at 409 North St., who did not think the city should consider this. He felt the board should put its efforts toward stopping "underground tattoo artists."
He said he always has younger visitors in his shop and always offers them the same advice.
"I asked them what the most important thing to them was when they were 12, when they were 16, and even 18," he said. "None of these things are the same and if you put something permanent on your body, I am not sure if they even have the mental faculty to know what they want at that age."
He said a lot of his business is covering up tattoos people got when they were younger and even if the board lifted this policy, he would not change his own practice.
Lamore added that consent can also cause issues especially if a parents share custody.
"It puts us right in the middle of it and that has happened a few times," he said. "It is not our fault and we had a legal guardian there. It is more of an ethical thing."
The board saw both sides of the issue and Stephen Smith asked if there was any detriment health wise getting a tattoo so young.
"Before I make a decision, I would want more information," he said. "I want to know the impact on the health of a young person getting a tattoo. They are still growing and will it affect their skin?"
Lamore thought it was more of an ethical consideration. He said the tattoo would really only become distorted if they gain a lot of weight.
Shepard and Lamore both agreed that there are plenty of options of minors who want tattoos. Shepard said it is not a big deal to drive to another community that allows tattoos with consent. She said a lot of kids go to Vermont and are charged an exorbitant amount of money.
Lamore added that there is nothing illegal about home tattoos and anybody can buy a kit online. He said it only becomes illegal if someone without the proper certification charges for a tattoo.
He said people often barter for tattoos and he did not think allowing minors to get tattoos professionally done would change this.
Although the board sympathized with allowing for cosmetic changes to botched tattoos they wanted more data in relation to minors seeking out underground artists when they cant get something professionally done.
They were also hesitant to change the way Pittsfield does things just because minors can get tattoos just outside of the city.
They also did not think the change would be accepted by the greater public.
Other than the age restriction, Shephard and Lamore had no concerns with the amendments.
Director of the Department of Health Gina Armstrong quickly highlighted two changes. Tattoo shops must sterilize equipment each week that equipment is used and new tattoo store owners must prove their experience with a resume.
"We really want to see evidence that they had that experience otherwise they would have to apply for an apprentice permit," she said.
In other business, the board approved the demolition of 619-621 Fenn St.
"All avenues for possible rehabilitation have been exhausted," Kullby said. "Looks like at one time it was a nice place."
The board heard from senior sanitarian Andy Cambi who said the structure is on the verge of collapse and is a public safety concern.
"The roof is collapsing and it has a big open area," he said. "There is no heat or hot water and it is open to the elements."
Cambi said they have tried to contact the owner about repairs but to no avail. He said the owner has been issued $1,750 worth of fines to date.
A friend of the owner made an inquiry about rehabilitation and that he sent off a copy of the order but has not heard back. He added that there has been no interest in receivership.