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New Tobacco Regulations Take Effect In Pittsfield

A "Smoke Free" sign in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Jim Levulis

New tobacco regulations aimed to curb youth smoking and reduce second-hand smoke in public areas went into effect today in the city of Pittsfield, Mass.The regulations enacted by the city’s Board of Health ban tobacco in city-owned parks, set a minimum price for single cigar sales and aim to reduce the number of tobacco sales permits in Pittsfield. The city banned tobacco products in pharmacies in 2012. Under the new regulations, stores must sell at least two cigars at a time in their original packaging, but single cigars can be sold at a minimum price of $2.50. Gina Armstrong is the city’s public health director.

“The cheap cigars are really marketed to kids in that they’re candy and fruit-flavored,” Armstrong said. “So it introduces them to tobacco products and to the possibility of establishing habits that will lead to lifelong addiction of nicotine. They’re considered to be starter products.”

Ann Shacar co-owns Wahconah Package & Variety store. She says the cigar regulations won’t work.

“I don’t feel it’s going to do any good because kids weren’t buying cigars in the first place,” Shacar said. “They buy the cigarettes and it has nothing to do with that. Totally two different issues.”

Shacar says people are just going to go to neighboring towns to get cigars. While it doesn’t affect existing retailers, under the new regulations any store wishing to get a tobacco sales permit must be set back at least 500 feet from an elementary or secondary school. Armstrong explains the motive.

“With tobacco retail comes a lot of exterior tobacco advertising which is in many cases targeting our youth,” said Armstrong.

Shacar says businesses shouldn’t be the ones being punished.

“There are a lot of parents who will come in here or other stores and they allow their children to smoke when they’re under 18,” Shacar said. “So unfortunately if parents are allowing it and kids have no punishment for smoking…there’s no reason for them not to.”

Armstrong says the city hopes to reduce the number of tobacco sales permits from 50 to about 25. The new regulations say if a retailer with a tobacco permit closes, the permit will be permanently retired. The same goes for any store that does not renew its permit within 30 days of it expiring.

In a store that doesn’t sell beer, Shacar says tobacco products account for 30 to 70 percent of daily sales. She says she and her husband were considering closing, but have decided to stay open, believing their tobacco license under the new regulations makes the store more valuable if they were to sell. The regulations state new owners have 60 days to apply for a tobacco permit if the current business already has one.

Meanwhile, no tobacco use will be allowed in Pittsfield’s 29 parks. Jim McGrath is the city’s park, open space and natural resource program manager.

“What we don’t want to see are folks competing with smokers in these outdoor spaces,” said McGrath.

While she agrees with the park ban, Jessica Cimini doesn’t believe any rule the city rolls out will stop those who want to smoke.

“None,” Cimini said. “None whatsoever. I started smoking when I was 11. I’m 36. I know the consequences. I already have health issues because of it. But, I’m going to smoke. If I’m going to smoke, I’m going to smoke.”

Although there is a $100 fine for first-time violators, McGrath says the park ban will mostly be a citizen-policing policy. He also believes it will help keep the parks clean.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

“Cigarette butts are a maintenance nightmare,” McGrath said. “They’re everywhere. They’re hard to pick up. We’ve just sort of accepted over the years that cigarette butts are there.”

As of April, 46 municipalities in Massachusetts covering nearly a quarter of the commonwealth’s population set minimum pricing for cigars. Places like Boston, Amherst and North Adams have also banned smoking in parks. It’s even prohibited in cemeteries in Great Barrington.

Click here to see Pittsfield's updated tobacco regulations.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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