Updated 5:43 p.m.
BOSTON — A town in north-central Massachusetts is considering banning the sale of all tobacco products — the first such sweeping measure in the country.
The proposal has Westminster businesses up in arms, while the town’s health board says it’s concerned about the effects of smoking and minors having access to tobacco products.
At a public hearing tonight, the board of health will hear comments about the proposed ban. The town’s health agent, Elizabeth Swedberg, was unavailable for comment today.
In its proposal, the Westminster Board of Health outlined the harmful effects of tobacco, including evidence that it leads to cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The board also said that e-cigarettes could normalize smoking behavior and “serve as a gateway” for ex-smokers to begin smoking again. And the board expressed concern about the allure of tobacco products to minors, saying that despite state laws prohibiting sales to youths under the age of 18, the access to tobacco products by minors is “a major public health problem.”
The proposed ban would prohibit the sale of any product containing, made or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for consumption. Should the ban move forward, first-time violators could be fined $300, and have board of health permits suspended or revoked for further violations.
The American Lung Association and the Massachusetts Public Health Association each said they do not have a position on this specific proposal.
Tami Gouveia, the executive director of the advocacy group Tobacco Free Mass, called the Westminster proposal an important approach to protecting public health. She said boards of health in all communities should look at different policies and approaches to keep their residents healthy.
“It’s important for us to be taking a real hard look at that and to continue to find ways to reduce youth use of cigarettes as well as adult use,” Gouveia said. “When we learned that lead was dangerous when people were exposed and when children were exposed, we removed lead from paint and we removed it from gasoline.”
Gouveia also said the Westminster proposal could help those struggling with nicotine addiction and make it easier for them to quit smoking when they realize the store they frequent can no longer sell tobacco products.
Opponents of the ban say it would hurt local businesses by driving customers — and profits — to neighboring communities. Continue reading