PITTSFIELD -- The Board of Health is considering regulatory changes that would further restrict the use of tobacco products in the city -- including in municipal parks.

A range of possible amendments to existing city regulation is under discussion, and the board hopes to decide at its May meeting on specific proposals, Health Director Gina Armstrong said. A public hearing on the revisions is planned in June.

Other changes being considered include a citywide cap on the number of licenses to sell tobacco products, setback requirements from schools or other locations where youths are present, and a ban on the individual sale of low-priced or flavored cigars, which tend to attract teens.

The board met this week with representatives of the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Part-
nership, who had surveyed the availability of inexpensive cigars, and Tri-Town Health Public Health Director James Wilusz, who outlined trends in tobacco regulation in other Mass-
achusetts communities.

Traditionally, the health board has been proactive on these issues, Chairwoman Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi said. "I think it's important that we take the next step."

However, members continue to receive information and comment, she said, adding, "There is a lot here."

Cities and towns that ban use of tobacco products in outdoor settings like parks, including North Adams and Great Barrington, should consider offering clear definitions of what constitutes a city park, Wilusz said.

He said a website link to the regulations could include a map and up-to-date listing of the park areas covered in such a regulation.

Smoking already is prohibited in Pittsfield workplaces and public places, including those with outdoor seating.

Concerning restrictions on the number of tobacco sales licenses in the city, Wilusz said one option used elsewhere includes capping the number -- Pittsfield currently has 48 businesses selling tobacco products and not approving new licenses unless a licenseholder goes out of business or stops selling tobacco.

A second option would be to not approve any new licenses as they are vacated, thereby reducing the number of outlets over time, he said. There are 23 communities with a cap on licenses, which typically are based on the size of the population.

As with any changes, Wilusz advised a step-by-step process and transparency so that the public understands the board's intent and motives. "The community has to digest it," he said.

An extensive new statement of purpose also is being considered, which primarily refers to the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to smoke on young people.

Joan Rubel and Zack Kotleski of the BTFCP group presented a survey of cigar advertising and availability in Pittsfield. Kotleski said he visited 44 tobacco retailers and found all but one sold some form of cigar for under $1, with the cheapest three for 99 cents.

The board is considering banning sales of cigars cheaper than $2.50 each if sold separately.

The current tobacco regulations are posted under Board of Health on the city website, www.cityofpittsfield.org.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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