Local health officials look to curb tobacco sales


LEE -- Local health officials hope to curb tobacco sales in Berkshire County by capitalizing on CVS' self-imposed nationwide ban of tobacco products from its 7,600 stores later this year.

The CVS announcement two weeks ago could spur more communities to do the same, according to James Wilusz, director of Tri-Town Health Department. Tri-Town oversees the county's only state-funded tobacco awareness program in a 12-community collaborative that includes Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.

"I publicly congratulate CVS, it's a bold move to go national, but let's not forget what we've done on the local level," said Wilusz.

Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge and, as of April 1, Adams currently prohibit tobacco sales in pharmacies or in stores with pharmacies, among 70 cities and towns statewide who have instituted such a ban since 2009. Wilusz plans to meet with the North Adams Board of Health next month to discuss a pharmaceutical tobacco ban in that city.

On Feb. 5, CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo announced his company's retail ban of tobacco would take effect Oct. 1; ending a contradiction at the second largest pharmacy chain in the U.S. behind Walgreens.

"Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered," said CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo. "This is the right thing to do."

Soon after, Walgreens said it may consider a tobacco sales ban at the chain's more than 8,600 stores across the country.

"[The CVS decision] puts pressure on the other pharmacies," noted Wilusz.

Anti-tobacco advocates hope electronic, or e-cigarettes, are included in future bans.

Several local communities under the tobacco awareness program currently regulate e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products, such as they can't be sold to anyone under 18 years of age and can't be smoked in municipal buildings, restaurants, stores and other indoor places.

According to Wilusz, e-cigarette makers are touting their product as a safer smoking alternative as they don't contain the harmful chemicals used in making regular cigarettes, but they still deliver nicotine which makes cigarette smoking addictive.

"Could they help people quit smoking, possibly," he said. "Is it an approved method to do so, no."

With federal and state regulations lacking for e-cigarettes, Wilusz says, for now, local boards of health need to stay ahead of their popularity.

"We've seen a significant jump in the number of stores in the county selling multiple e-cigarettes," he said.

Last fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported e-cigarette use by American middle and high school students had more than doubled from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233


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