ADAMS -- Proposed restrictions on tobacco and e-cigarettes ignited a spirited debate at a public hearing Wednesday night, but the Board of Health opted to continue to consider the measure rather than taking a final vote on the law.
The new regulations, if adopted by the board of health, would restrict public use of e-cigarettes on public property, prohibit the sale of tobacco-related products to minors, and ban the sale of tobacco in pharmacies. They will be taken up again by the board at its Feb. 12 meeting.
Opinion was split at Wednesday night's hearing, with store owners arguing that restrictions needlessly damage their businesses and supporters of the proposal insisting that steps were needed to combat smoking, particularly in young people.
Stoking the most debate was a new rule that would prohibit the sale of individual cigars under $2.50 in packs of less than four.
Joan Rubel, director of public health initiatives at Berkshire Area Health Education Center, said cigars often are marketed toward young people with flavors, that, other than menthols, are banned from being used in cigarettes. The low price of single cigars also is attractive to young people, advocates for the change pointed out.
"You used to be able to buy a single cigarette," Rubel said, but the practice changed to reduce smoking rates. As soon as those laws went into affect, she said, manufacturers introduced flavored cigars with the same purpose.
But owners of Adams' Racing Mart and 7-Eleven convenience stores said the rules were infringing on their rights to sell a legal product.
Though Jim Rose, owner of the 7-Eleven, said he "totally agrees" with restrictions on e-cigarettes, he didn't think the low price is the reason why young adults get their hands on cigars.
"If they want to get a product, they're going to get it," he said.
Rose said that many of his adult customers only want to purchase one cigar at a time. He added that the state's $1 increase to its tax on cigarettes has hurt business.
"We're already suffering," he said.
The owner of Racing Mart echoed Rose's concerns, pointing out that cigar sales are already restricted from minors no matter what quantity they come in.
Several advocates for the new laws spoke during the hearing, including Wayne Klug, a psychology professor at Berkshire Community College.
Klug said the college's recent campus-wide ban on smoking has been successful, and that many smokers need such legislative action to assist their efforts to quit. Klug also pointed out a correlation between poverty and smoking rates. Adams, he said, has a smoking rate 40 percent above the national average, while Williamstown's is 11 percent below.
According to a representative from the Massachusetts Municipal Association., more than 100 towns across have restricted e-cigarette use across the state, and more than 80 towns have instituted a pharmacy ban.
The issue of the rules' enforcement also was raised by one commenter, which the board admitted would be difficult.
"The people will actually police themselves, I'm a firm believer in that," said board member Allen Mendel.
Richard Blanchard questioned the board's authority to institute the new regulations. The board responded by saying that town counsel Edmund St. John III had reviewed the proposals and approved their legality.
Board Chairwoman Patricia Clairmont added that similar regulations have already passed in dozens of other communities.