PITTSFIELD -- Following a public hearing that attracted mostly supportive comments, the Board of Health on Wednesday adopted sweeping new anti-tobacco use regulations, focusing on preventing youth smoking.
The changes, which the board has considered over the past few months, include a ban on tobacco product use in city-owned parks and playgrounds, a minimum packaging and pricing regulation targeting single-sale cigars, and a provision that will allow the board to limit or reduce the number of tobacco sales licenses in the city over time.
The changes, which were adopted unanimously, will take effect Sept. 15.
Several people spoke in favor of the tougher regulations, including Joan Rubel and Zack Kotleski of the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership, Tri-Town Health Public Health Director James Wilusz, who advised the board in developing the new regulations; Karen Cole, coordinator of the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership at Berkshire United Way, and Cheryl Sbarra of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.
Speaking in opposition, Philip Tangora, area marketing director for XtraMart, questioned whether smokers will "just go to Lee or another township" to avoid stricter regulations in Pittsfield.
He said that because the company also has stores in the states surrounding Massachusetts, he has seen a decrease in tobacco sales here since a hike in the state tax here last year and a corresponding sales increase in surrounding states.
Board members said they see their primary concern as promoting public health, rather than trying to gauge the effect on tobacco sales, but they stressed that the changes were carefully developed, based on strategies used in other communities and targeted at reducing tobacco use among the young.
"We have taken our time," said Jay Green at one point, adding, "These are proven strategies ... and they are narrowly tailored [to address the effects on youth]."
Chairwoman Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi, citing statistics on youth smoking, said there is a clear need for further regulatory efforts.
In her comments, Mary Ellen D'Agostino referred to people she knows suffering with health effects related to smoking. She made a passionate appeal for strong action by the board. "I ask you to be militant, and not take your time," she said.
Tyson Edwards, who began a petition in May in support of banning smoking in city parks, urged the board to act quickly to implement the restriction.
The board also received letters in opposition from tobacco sales industry groups and written comments in support of the ban on smoking in parks, along with a number of emailed comments, Health Director Gina Armstrong said.
The new regulations 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. It will prevent the sale of cigars costing less than $2.50 and require that at least two be sold at a time.
The regulations will now include a provision allowing the board to control the number of tobacco sales licenses in the city, which now stand at 49. Board members have said they would like to reduce that number over time through attrition to about 25.
However, existing licenses would not be affected, even if the business had to move to a new location in Pittsfield, officials said.
The board in recent years reduced the number of licenses from 60 to 49 by banning tobacco sales at pharmacies.
The changes also includes a 500-foot buffer zone from schools for tobacco sales. That would not affect current license holders, but would not allow them to be issued to a new owner.
Smoking already is prohibited in Pittsfield workplaces and public places, including those with outdoor seating. And there is a required 10-foot buffer zone from others for smoking outdoors.
The minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in the city would remain at 18.
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New Pittsfield tobacco use regulations ...
n Ban on use in city parks and
n Ban on cheap, single-sale cigars
n A 500-foot sales buffer zone from schools
n Board authorized to set or reduce number of tobacco sales licenses in the city