PITTSFIELD — A public information session Tuesday on proposed new tobacco control regulations being implemented by the Board of Health generated few questions and no opposition.
Robyn Sharp, representing the Global Partners company, which owns five convenience stores in Pittsfield and others in Berkshire County, met during the afternoon session with City Health Director Gina Armstrong to go over the changes. Sharp raised no objections to the new regulations and said afterward the company should have "no problem" complying.
The Board of Health has steadily tightened tobacco sales regulations in recent years, aiming to reduce youth exposure to tobacco and lower the area's above average smoking rate and number of sales outlets.
The newest amendments would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, ban flavored tobacco products and the sale of "blunt wraps," or small cigar packs, and extend a 500-foot sales buffer zone setback to include day care centers and preschool operations as well as schools.
Sharp asked several questions about the flavored tobacco ban, seeking clarification. The ban includes all flavors, which are considered by health officials to be a marketing strategy to attract teen smokers, except for the additives menthol, mint and wintergreen. Tobacco control consultants have advised the board that those can't be banned following a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the industry.
Armstrong said after the brief information session that no retailers had called with questions following a notice sent last month to inform city sales permit-holders of the pending changes. She said another packet concerning the revisions will be sent to permit-holders prior to the Nov. 1 implementation.
The department also expects to have signage available that will explain to store customers about the flavored tobacco ban.
The Health Department has posted the revised regulations on its website, at www.cityofpittsfield.org/city_hall/health_and_inspections/tobacco_regulations.php. The site includes a list of frequently asked questions with answers.
Armstrong said information concerning the extension of the sales buffer zone setback to include preschools and day care facilities was not included in the information sent to permit-holders in July. She said the possible effects would not be felt by sales permit-holders for existing stores, as those permits are grandfathered as long as they are renewed or a new owner applies for a permit at the same location.
However, if a permit-holder wanted to move to a new location, the 500-foot buffer zone could come into play, she said. In a report to the health board last month, board member Dominica D'Avella and Armstrong said there currently are 52 home-based child care facilities and 23 larger facilities in the city. Only state licensed facilities will be counted under the tobacco regulations.
The amendments also contain new clarifying language pertaining to the issuance of a license to a new store owner, which must be applied for within 60 days of closure or sale of the former business, and new language pertaining to a cap on sales permits enacted two years ago. The revision caps permits at the current number, 52.
A long-range goal of the board is to reduce the number of outlets for tobacco sales through attrition, as businesses close and no new potential tobacco permit holder steps forward.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.