Thursday May 3, 2012

LEE -- Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge are the first local communities to ban tobacco sales at stores with pharmacies, one of several proposals aimed primarily at keeping youths from buying cigarettes and other tobacco-related products.

The Tri-Town Board of Health, representing the three towns, has adopted the revisions to its tobacco control regulations, effective July 1.

The same ban and other tougher tobacco regulations are also being considered by the Pittsfield Board of Health, which has scheduled a public hearing on the anti-tobacco proposal at its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. June 6 in City Hall.

Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge join Boston, Springfield and 26 other Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted the ban since 2008, affecting 293 stores -- 58 of which are independent pharmacies and the rest major retailers.The exclusion of tobacco products will impact three businesses with pharmacies: Rite Aid and CVS in Lee and Lenox respectively and the Big Y supermarket in Lee.

Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge join Boston, Springfield and 26 other Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted the ban since 2008, affecting 293 stores -- 58 of which are independent pharmacies and the rest major retailers.The exclusion of tobacco products will impact three businesses with pharmacies: Rite Aid and CVS in Lee and Lenox respectively and the Big Y supermarket in Lee.

"I applaud Lenox and the other two towns for caring about the health of its citizens," said Anne Browne, co-owner of Lenox Village Integrative Pharmacy.

The independently run pharmacy already is tobacco-free, a self-imposed ban that began under the previous owner more than a decade ago, according to Browne.

"We consider tobacco being outside a healthy lifestyle," she said.

If approved in Pittsfield, the prohibition would affect 10 city businesses with pharmacies belonging to six retail chains.

Pittsfield is among the 12 Berkshire communities, including Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, that belong to the local tobacco awareness program administered by the Tri-Town Health Department.

While there's no hard evidence the ban will curtail tobacco sales to minors, it will reduce accessibility to the youth, according to the ban's proponents.

"[Tri-Town's vote] on Monday night will reduce the number of places where young people are exposed to tobacco promotion, reduce how easy it is for young people to begin tobacco use and, taken together, their actions will decrease the likelihood that adolescents will start to smoke," said Joan Rubel, project coordinator for Berkshire AHEC's Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.

For Pittsfield Board of Health member Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi, the ban is a no-brainer.

"I would limit youth access to tobacco anyway I can," Orsi said at the board's meeting Wednesday night. "I think [pharmacies] should be held to a higher standard."

In addition, the prohibition makes sense because pharmacies are in the business of promoting good health, noted Tri-Town's director, James J. Wilusz.

"It is illogical that [a business] that promotes health and wellness, offers medical advice and administers vaccinations is selling tobacco products," Wilusz said. "It is a direct conflict of interest of what they are trying to promote."

Meanwhile, Wilusz believes another tobacco regulation change will directly impact youth smoking. The Tri-Town board also agreed to prevent the sale of nicotine delivery devices to minors and ban their use indoors.

Wilusz pointed out that Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge currently can't prevent someone under the age of 18 from buying so-called "e-cigarettes," which deliver the nicotine fix without the tobacco.

"The use of e-cigarettes aren't regulated and [they are] not a FDA-approved substance like the nicotine patch," he said, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, the revised tobacco regulations in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge include a ban on tobacco sales in educational institutions, the elimination of outdoor smoking where food is served and the requirement that tobacco retailers post signage with a smoking cessation hotline phone number.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.