Our Opinion: Pittsfield must stand firm on tobacco regulations
Pittsfield doesn't have a convenience store shortage. If some can't abide by or don't agree with city tobacco regulations, the city is under no obligation to cut them any slack.
Pittsfield's obligation is to the health of residents in a city with a severe smoking problem. The Board of Health is addressing that problem and shouldn't apologize for that effort or back away from it.
Owners of a West Street variety store and a proposed new convenience store on East Street appeared before the Board of Health Wednesday to plead ignorance of its tobacco sales regulations after running afoul of them. They are seeking waivers to avoid the cap on tobacco sales licenses established by the board.
Ignorance is no excuse. The cap was established after the board conducted well-attended public hearings which were reported upon by The Eagle. The rules are posted on the city website.
Pittsfield City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo told the board that the tight cap is jeopardizing business growth. The city's many convenience stores, some of them chain stores that ship profits out of the city, limit growth by cannibalizing each other. City Councilor Chris Connell, who has worked in the convenience store business, said the stores can't survive without tobacco sales. That is an argument for not allowing more convenience stores in to compete with current stores, and if your proposed store can't succeed in Pittsfield without cigarette sales, don't open one.
The problem facing Pittsfield is not insufficient access to cigarettes. The problem facing Pittsfield, according to statistics provided by the Tri-Town Health Department, is an adult smoking prevalence rate of 23 percent that is 45 percent higher than the state average. The rate of smoking during pregnancy in Pittsfield is a remarkable 250 percent higher than the state average.
Smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema and heart problems. Mortality from lung cancer is 20 percent higher in Pittsfield than the rest of the state. A medical cost in the millions to treat these diseases is born by all of us through higher health insurance costs.
Those costs must be factored in along with whatever money convenience stores — which are apparently as tobacco-addicted as smokers — generate for Pittsfield. Much of the money from tobacco sales at convenience stores — locally owned or chained — makes its way back to Big Tobacco, which it uses to push its sales higher and further increase the costs of treating the resultant public health problems.
The Board of Health has been aggressively addressing Pittsfield's tobacco addiction with the cap on sales, a ban on sales in pharmacies and other measures. On Wednesday it approved a draft set of regulations raising the legal age for purchase to 21, which will help foil Big Tobacco's efforts to addict young people to smoking.
The board shouldn't provide waivers to its sales cap, nor should it waver from its anti-smoking efforts. We urge everyone disturbed by the city's high smoking rate to support the board's needed actions.