Health officials in the town of Westminster, Massachusetts are considering a ban on all tobacco products. This week the Board of Health will hear public comment on regulations that would make the town of 7,700 the first in the U.S. to ban tobacco outright.
“To my knowledge, it would be the first in the nation to enact a total ban,” said Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association. “We commend the town for doing it.”
The ominously titled “Town Health Agent” Elizabeth Swedberg cited the tobacco companies’ marketing to young people as reason for the ban. “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.”
An unfortunate casualty of such do-gooderism will be the local businesses. Brad Vincent’s family owned business, located literally on Main Street, said tobacco products make up 5% of his business. Tobacco consumers also purchase other products like milk or cookies from his store.
“It’s going to send business five minutes this way or five minutes that way — no one’s going to quit,” said Vincent, who admits to enjoying a cigar himself now and then. Vincent has gathered 800 signatures so far on a petition opposed to the proposal.
Local resident Colleen Connor who purchases her cigarettes at Vincent’s stores said she will have to drive 25 miles to get cigarettes should the proposal gain approval. “When you’re a smoker, you’ll quit when you’re ready, not because someone told you to,” she said. “I think it’s going to hurt the store — and I love the store.”
Swedberg believes that local non-tobacco using residents will pick up the slack suffered by the tobacco ban. She believes removing the temptation of seeing tobacco products will help residents kick the habit. “For people who are trying to quit, it could be a better place for them to shop, because they wouldn’t be confronted with tobacco.”