Westminster, Massachusetts, could become the first town in the country to ban the sale of tobacco products. The town’s Board of Health is to hear what is sure to be impassioned public comment on the potential ban Wednesday. The measure is backed by the town’s health officials but some business owners and tobacco representatives say it’s bad for business.
“The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people,” Westminister Health Agent Elizabeth Swedberg said, adding new smokeless products are too like candy. “The board was getting frustrated trying to keep up with this.”
The Centers for Disease Control supports smoke-free measures in the workplace and cites 21 studies that found a median of 3.4 percent decrease in tobacco use. The federal health authority said there is “strong evidence that smoke-free policies reduce tobacco use among youths.”
“The primary purpose of smoke-free laws and policies is to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. However, smoke-free laws can also motivate and help tobacco users quit and prevent initiation of tobacco use,” the CDC said.
“Nobody is going to stop smoking because this town decided to ban cigarettes,” said Michael Fratturelli of Westminster Liquors. “Businesses won’t want to come to this town anymore, and the value of our businesses will go down.”
Another local store owner said people who come in to his store to buy cigarettes will often buy other products as well. People will travel to neighboring towns instead, he said. Store owners are gathering signatures on a petition to stop the town from following through with the ban. Town officials made the proposed ban public on Oct. 27.
People may drive out of town to buy tobacco products, but the measure will still help keep cigarettes out of the hands of the Westminster teenagers, said D.J. Wilson, director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program.
State lawmakers raised the tax on cigarettes from $2.51 to $3.51 per pack in Massachusetts July 31, 2013. A pack of cigarettes typically costs $6 to $11. The increase made the state’s cigarette tax the second highest in the country behind neighboring New York, according to the Tax Foundation.