By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff
PITTSFIELD -- City health officials are considering a ban on tobacco sales at stores with pharmacies, one of several proposals aimed at keeping youths from buying cigarettes and other tobacco-related products.
The Board of Health is reviewing the potential revisions to its tobacco control regulations, put forth by Tri-Town Health Department director James J. Wilusz. The board will further discuss the changes at its March meeting and eventually at a public hearing before taking a vote, according to Dr. Philip Adamo, chairman of the five-member panel.
Tri-Town, the primary public health agency for Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, administers the state-funded, local tobacco awareness program to nine other communities, including Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington. Aside from Pittsfield and North Adams, the four other municipalities will formally receive the proposed revisions to their tobacco regulations over the next two months, according to Wilusz.
If approved in Pittsfield, the ban on tobacco sales would impact 10 businesses with pharmacies belonging to six retail chains. The traditional pharmacies include four Rite Aid stores and one CVS. The prohibition would also extend to the two Stop & Shop supermarkets, along with two other grocers, Big Y and Price Chopper and the Walmart department store.
Since 2008, Boston and 24 other Massachusetts municipalities, all in eastern and central Massachusetts have adopted the ban affecting 261 stores -- 58 independent pharmacies, the rest involving retailers.
While Wilusz acknowledges there’s no hard evidence the ban will reduce tobacco sales to minors, it will reduce accessibility to the youth.
In addition, the prohibition makes sense because pharmacies are in the business of promoting good health, according to board member Jay Green.
"Doing this makes a statement we don’t condone [the tobacco sales], and it’s a conflict of interest," Green said.
Furthermore, two other board members feel the prohibition is part of their mission to eradicate tobacco use in Pittsfield.
"If we’re going to become a tobacco-free community, there are a lot of little steps and this is one of them," said Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi at last week’s board meeting.
Ann Tierney added, "At least doing this [ban] is headed in the right direction."
Meanwhile, Wilusz believes the other two proposed tobacco regulation changes will directly impact youth smoking. One would prevent the sale of nicotine delivery devices to minors; the second would attempt to keep them from buying single cigars.
Wilusz said Pittsfield 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 revised regulation for cigars would require they be sold at least as a package of five, or individually only if the wholesale price of a single cigar is at least $2 or the retail cost is $2.50.
Wilusz said some single flavored cigars can go for as little as 99 cents.
"When youth go into a store, they’re not going to drop $10 on a pack of cigarettes when they can try to buy a cheap, individual cigar," Wilusz said.
Through compliance checks and store-clerk training through the tobacco awareness program, Pittsfield has reduced known illegal sales to minors from 38 in 2007, to two in 2010. However, the figure spiked to 16 last year, seven due to uncertified clerks, local health officials said last fall.