PITTSFIELD — The city Board of Health has approved a draft set of tobacco regulation changes that include raising the legal age to 21, for those purchasing the products.
The board arrived at its decision on Wednesday after working on a draft of changes for the past few months. The revised draft of regulations will be posted on the city's website by the end of the week, and a newspaper legal advertisement will be placed next week, according to Health Director Gina Armstrong.
She said a public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for May 4. If approved by the board, the new regulations would take effect on Aug. 1.
In finalizing the draft changes, the board quickly approved raising the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21, which has been extensively discussed at prior meetings.
If approved, the city would become one of more than 90 communities in the state to do so, including Williamstown, Lee, Lenox, Lanesborough and Stockbridge, with Adams, North Adams and Great Barrington considering or having discussed such a move.
There also is a bill before the Legislature that would raise the legal age statewide.
Other proposed changes in the city regulations include a ban on flavored tobacco products — considered to be aimed at the youth market — and revisions to regulations governing license transfers when a store with a tobacco sales license closes or is sold to another party.
The regulations leave in place a cap on the total number of licenses and reflect a long-term goal of reducing the number of sales outlets to 25 as businesses close and surrender licenses.
That figure is clearly "a lofty goal," board member Jay Green said, and not one likely to be realized, as the demand for licenses is high.
Concerning license transfers, the revisions clarify that when the business of a license-holder closes or is sold, the sales license is returned to the board, which would then have the option of approving a new license to the person purchasing the business, should they apply within 60 days.
No automatic transfers are possible between business owners, board members said, only through specific approval of the board, which would also require a site visit to be made.
If a business is inactive for 90 days or stops selling tobacco for that period, the permit will be considered retired, according to the proposed revisions. However, a new applicant for the permit may apply within the 90-day period for a sales operation at the same location.
The transfer process offers "a window of opportunity" for a new applicant to acquire a license about to be returned or retired, Green said, while adding more specific detail on time limits and the conditions for applying.
Over the past few years, other tobacco sales regulations adopted by the board include a ban on cheap, single-sale cigars, which are popular with youths who may not want to purchase a more expensive pack of cigarettes; and a 500-foot buffer zone from schools for tobacco sales. That buffer zone does not affect current license holders, but would prevent permits to be issued to a new owner.
Smoking already is prohibited in Pittsfield workplaces and public places, such as city parks, including venues with outdoor seating. And there is a required 10-foot buffer zone from others for smoking outdoors.
Prior to setting a cap on any new sales licenses, now numbering 51, the board had banned sales in pharmacies in the city, reducing the number of sales outlets from just more than 60.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.