GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Tri-Town Health Department had a fruitful 2012 in helping Berkshire County’s larger localities adopt stricter policies to rein in the use and sale of tobacco.
Tri-Town Director of Public Health James Wilusz, who runs the regional health department, received a $37,900 grant for the current fiscal year to help adults quit smoking and keep youths from starting.
Over the last year, Berkshire County became a tougher place to light a cigarette in public, but an easier place for nonsmokers to enjoy life without secondhand smoke.
Tri-Town Health Department joined hands with local boards of health to curb tobacco use in Great Barrington, North Adams and other towns, with private business and public institutions also adopting tougher rules.
"I hope people are seeing [this] and carrying the momentum forward," Wilusz said.
The Tri-Town Health Department is responsible for advising 12 towns and cities in Berkshire County on smoking policies. Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge banned pharmacies from selling cigarettes earlier this spring.
Pittsfield would follow, which affected 10 city businesses with pharmacies.
In addition, Pyramid Management Group, of Syracuse, N.Y., which runs the Berkshire Mall, implemented a tobacco-free policy in May.
In North Adams, Wilusz said that the city’s adult smoking prevalence is twice the state rate. Nonetheless, the North Adams Board of Health also got tough on smokers, seeking Wilusz for assistance.
As of Jan. 1, the North Adams policy bans smoking at city-sponsored events, such as the annual Eagle Street Beach Party. There would be a tobacco-free workplace in public vehicles, public property (such as parks), and other additional restrictions.
Great Barrington updated an already stringent smoking policy, prohibiting smoking bars, such as cigar bars and hookah bars, from opening. E-cigarettes were also banned.
Berkshire Community College is working on a plan that would implement stricter smoking laws.
The North Adams Housing Authority is developing a smoke-free policy for its housing units, said Joan Rubel, the director of public health initiatives with Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnerships.
Rubel said that that she’s noticed strong community support backing smoking controls.
"It’s representative of a real shift in perception," she said. "It’s protecting people from secondhand smoke."
The North Adams Housing Authority’s action is a significant step, and banning the sale of cigarettes is also significant, she said.
"Banning the sale in pharmacies is really significant as far as de-normalizing tobacco," Rubel said.
What comes next?
"We’ve had great progress in 2012, but there’s a long way to go," Rubel said. "There are a lot of smokers who want to quit."
Wilusz said that the local policies could have even larger implications.
"As that builds up, it’s going to build pressure on legislators," he said.