Massachusetts town's plan to ban tobacco sales riles store owners

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 28, 2014 3:02 PM

By Ted Siefer

LOWELL Mass. (Reuters) - Store owners in a Massachusetts town proposing to bar the sale of all tobacco products objected to the proposal on Tuesday, a day after local officials announced the planned ban.

Health officials in Westminster, about 60 miles (97 km)northwest of Boston, released a plan on Monday to bar the sale of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars, as well as electronic cigarettes, citing health risks tied to the nicotine products.

The Westminster regulation points to a ruling by the state's highest court holding that "the right to engage in business must yield to the paramount right of government to protect the public health by any rational means."

Citing U.S. health authorities, the proposed regulation states that there is "conclusive evidence that tobacco smoking causes cancer, respiratory and cardiac diseases, (and) negative birth outcomes."

Convenience store owners in the town of about 7,300 residents said the ban would do little to cut down on tobacco use and prompt customers to drive to the next town for the product while sharply cutting their stores' incomes.

"It's not just the loss of tobacco sales," said Brian Vincent, the owner of Vincent's Country Store. "It's the additional impulse items smokers buy, a bottle of soda, a bag of chips for the road, scratch tickets."

Vincent, who posted in his store a petition that had gathered 300 signatures by Tuesday morning opposing the ban, estimated that it would cost him $100,000 a year in sales.

The New England Convenience Store Association has also taken a stand against the ban. "At the end of the day, it's businesses in the local community that will get hurt," said Stephen Ryan, the group's executive director.

Westminster's health agent did not return requests on Tuesday for comment.

While restrictions on smoking in specific settings have proliferated in Massachusetts and around the country, Westminster appears to be the first to consider a town-wide ban on the sale of all tobacco products.

Historian Robert Proctor of Stanford University said he was unaware of a municipal ban on tobacco products in nearly a century.

In Boston, a ban went into effect this year on smoking in all public parks and playgrounds.

A three-member Westminster Board of Health will be required to vote to pass the ban.

The board will hold a public hearing on the topic on Nov. 12.

(Reporting by Ted Siefer; Additional reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Laila Kearney and Eric Beech)