Tobacco products may become a thing of the past for Westminster, Mass., as the small town of 7,700 considers banning the sale of all tobacco products within town limits. The city’s Board of Health will open the floor to public comments on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press. The proposal has garnered so much local attention that the Board of Health had to move Wednesday’s venue from the usual conference room to an elementary school cafeteria.
Elizabeth Swedberg, a town health agent, says the ban is a sensible way to combat the promotion of tobacco products to children. According to Swedberg, the Board of Health had grown frustrated trying to fight marketing that targets children, like electric cigarettes and bubblegum-flavored cigars. In September, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, saying 17-year-old smokers were three times as likely to use the flavored products as smokers over the age of 25. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, almost 100 percent of daily cigarette smokers started smoking when they were 26 or younger.
Local shop owner, Brian Vincent, disparages the proposed regulation, stating that roughly five percent of his revenue comes from the sale of tobacco products. Vincent says it is also unlikely smokers will quit if the ban passes, but that the moratorium will instead drive customers from his shop and five minutes out-of-town for their fix. The moratorium may face fierce opposition from Vincent and other local merchants of tobacco products, who have gathered over 800 signatures petitioning the Westminster ban.
Local smoker, Colleen Conner, says the ban will hurt businesses, and Conner echoes the argument that smokers will be driven out-of-town to purchase the products rather than be driven to quit. Swedberg countered by saying smokers trying to quit will face less temptation to buy cigarettes when they are no longer faced with them every time they go to the store. Claudia Kulik of Westminster quit 10 years ago, but agrees with Conner, saying a lack of temptation is not what causes smokers to quit, adding that she once went out for cigarettes during an ice storm.
The ban could become the first of its kind in the U.S., but not in the world. On Friday, Bihar became the ninth Indian state to impose a tobacco ban, according to the Times of India. There are also bans on flavored tobacco products across the U.S., aimed at protecting children without limiting adult use. On Tuesday, Santa Clara County, in California, became the first jurisdiction to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products—like bubblegum-flavored cigars—which a county spokeswoman said are aimed at American youth.
According to CBS San Francisco, retailers in the county will have a 90-day period to comply with the new regulation, after which time the Department of Environmental Health will begin inspections of tobacco retailers. The ban will not apply to retailers who make more than 60 percent of their revenue from tobacco sales, do not serve food or alcohol and do not allow unaccompanied minors on the premises. If Westminster decides to pass the ban, it may become the first U.S. municipality to enact a total moratorium on the sale of tobacco products within its city limits, reports the Associated Press.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa
Photo by: Curtis Perry – Flickr License