PITTSFIELD >> The Board of Health this week further revised its new set of tobacco regulation amendments by adding preschools and child care facilities to a section on buffer zones around sites where sale of tobacco products will be prohibited.
The regulations had set a 500-foot buffer zone around public or private elementary and secondary schools, but the board decided Wednesday to add all licensed preschool and child care facilities as well.
There currently are 52 home-based child care facilities and 23 larger facilities in the city, according to research presented Wednesday by board member Dominica D'Avella and Health Director Gina Armstrong.
While there are sales outlets now permitted within some of the buffer zones that would be expanded by the change, current permits would be grandfathered and businesses could continue to sell tobacco. New permits also could be issued for that location if the business is sold or transferred to new ownership.
However, the decision means that new businesses could not be located within the 500-foot buffer zone and receive a new license to offer tobacco products.
D'Avella said the current regulation language "leaves a gaping hole in the tobacco regulations," by referring only to schools. She said the potential exposure of children to tobacco — a major impetus board members have cited for tightening tobacco control efforts in recent years — has been to discourage tobacco use by youth.
She also noted that Pittsfield has a comparatively high density of tobacco sales outlets, which prompted a goal of capping and possibly reducing over time the number of outlets.
The board had previously considered including only day care facilities with a minimum of 10 children in the new buffer zone, but members decided that might cause confusion in determining which facilities qualified. The term "all licensed" facilities was inserted, referring to those holding a license from the state, which can be easily identified online.
D'Avella said that city zoning regulations list day care centers, along with schools, in referring to a buffer zone around a medical marijuana facility. She said that, since no one would be permitted to use marijuana at such a facility and youths could not enter it, a store selling tobacco products could prove "a far greater threat" to the health of young people.
The new language on day care centers and preschools was considered but set aside for more discussion when the board adopted a new set of regulation amendments in July. Those include raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, banning flavored products, which are considered to be aimed at young people, and specifying that no new sales licenses beyond the current 52 would be considered.
The regulations also allow for a permit to be permanently retired by the board if a business closes and if no purchaser applies within 60 days for a new tobacco permit.
Armstrong said the regulation amendments, which are due to take effect in November, will be discussed during two public information meetings this month. The sessions are set for Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 5 p.m., and Thursday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m. in Room 203 at City Hall.
The city's regulations and the proposed amendment package are posted on the city's website — www.cityofpittsfield.org — under City Hall/Health Department.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.