The Pittsfield Board of Health took a lengthy, often redundant, pounding from city councilors Tuesday night over its tobacco sales permit policies. The board should stay the course.
The board was criticized for its cap on new tobacco sales permits and for not accommodating applicants who can't be troubled to find out what the rules are. It was accused of being unfriendly to business as if the city should pursue a convenience-store-based economy in which chains send money out of the city while providing a few minimum wage jobs. Councilors Donna Todd Rivers, Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo and Anthony Simonelli led the questioning, with Councilors Mazzeo and Simonelli the most critical.
Berkshire County, according to Board of Health officials on Tuesday night, has an adult smoking rate 15 percent above the state average, with Pittsfield at 23 percent. This plainly concerns the board and should but evidently doesn't concern its critics on the council. The mammoth costs of treating lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other smoking-related ailments are shared by all of us and whatever revenue is generated by convenience stores hawking cigarettes pales by comparison.
The Board of Health should not raise its cap of 51 tobacco sales permits, and ideally, anti-smoking efforts will lead to a reduction of permits over time as the dangerous habit goes out of fashion. If convenience store applicants don't know the regulations, that's their problem and not the board's. If applicants believe they can't make their store work without selling cigarettes, they should definitely go someplace else. The board should not declare a moratorium on new tobacco regulations and should instead go forward with revisions it is considering enacting this summer. The tougher, the better.
Most of all, members of the Board of Health should not be intimidated by city councilors who believe it is their job to pave the way for whatever nicotine purveyor wants to come to town and doesn't want to abide by bothersome regulations. The job of the Board of Health, in contrast, is to protect the public health, which in this case means adopting and enforcing strict regulations on tobacco.
Pittsfield has a severe tobacco addiction, one that is threatening the health of its youth. The Board of Health should continue if not escalate its aggressive response to this addiction.