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This Wednesday, the Board of Health for the Massachusetts town of Westminster will hear public comment on a proposal to make the town the first municipality in the United States to ban the sale of all tobacco products within its borders. This proposed ban would include smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Thomas Carr, director of national policy for the American Lung Association, said that ” To my knowledge, it would be the first in the nation to enact a total ban. We commend them for doing it” according to the Associated Press. Town health agent Elizabeth Swedberg, in speaking to the AP, said that the ban was sensible and that “The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people”, citing the sale of cheap bubblegum-flavored cigars, e-cigs and dissolvable smokeless tobacco similar to Tic-Tacs.
Local business owner Brian Vincent, on the other hand, makes 5 percent of his sales from tobacco, which a quarter of his consumers purchase. These sales often drive sales of other products. Vincent told the AP that “It’s going to send business five minutes this way or five minutes that way – no one’s going to quit.” Presumably, a ban on tobacco would have deleterious effects on the state of his family-owned grocery on the town’s Main Street.
Vincent has not taken talk of banning tobacco lightly. Supported by the New England Convenience Store Association, Vincent has launched a petition of customers and fellow shopkeepers. He has 800 signatures thus far, and hopes to have a few hundred more by the time they present the petition to town officials.
Big Tobacco has not stayed quiet either. David Sutton, a spokesperson for the Altria Group, which owns the nation’s biggest cigarette maker Phillip Morris, said “If the ban were to be implemented, adult tobacco and e-vapor consumers could shift their purchases to neighboring stores. The proposed regulations, if enacted, would fundamentally alter these businesses and would likely cost Westminster jobs.”
The board’s meeting has attracted so much attention that it will be held in a school cafeteria rather than in the normal conference room, in order to accommodate the volume of people who might attend.
Local smokers told the AP that they would go to great lengths to still purchase tobacco. One woman said she’d drive 25 miles into New Hampshire to get her tobacco fix. Another woman, a former smoker, admitted that during her smoking years she once drove out in an ice storm just to get a pack of smokes, implying that other smokers would be similarly motivated to circumvent any possible ban.
Featured image from Shutterstock
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