Massachusetts Town Weighing Tobacco Sales Ban

If the measure passes, it would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

The small town of Westminster, located just about an hour from Boston in Central Mass., could soon make history for a public health initiative.

The burg has started the process to become the first municipality—population 7,700—in the U.S. to ban the sales of all tobacco products inside town lines. On Wednesday, the Board of Health will hear public comment on the proposed regulation, and the AP is reporting that the board could be in for a long night.

Although the proposed rule doesn’t ban smoking within the town’s borders, just sales of tobacco products, local shop owners are complaining that the measure will hurt small businesses and that they could lose at least five percent of their sales. Also, the New England Convenience Store Association is backing a petition against the proposal.

The report goes on to say:

Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, called the proposal a “bad policy” that will harm local employers.

On the other side, Elizabeth Swedberg, a town health agent, told the AP that change has to start somewhere:

“The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people,” she said, pointing to 69-cent bubblegum-flavored cigars, electronic cigarettes and a new form of dissolvable smokeless tobacco that resembles Tic Tac candies. “The board was getting frustrated trying to keep up with this.”

A number of Massachusetts’ towns have imposed stricter tobacco regulations as of late. One year ago, Northeastern banned smoking on campus. Last fall, the city of Boston banned smoking in all public parks. This past summer, the Cape Cod National Seashore banned smoking on six guarded beaches. The town of Salem recently invested in cigarette butt recycling program. And Rhode Island-based CVS became the first drug store chain to ban tobacco sales (and they did it early).

“To my knowledge, it would be the first in the nation to enact a total ban,” Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association told the AP. “We commend the town for doing it.”