Pittsfield Health Board aims to cut tobacco sales licenses by half
PITTSFIELD -- The Board of Health is poised to adopt sweeping new anti-tobacco use regulations that include a plan to reduce by half the number of tobacco sales licenses in Pittsfield.
The major revision to the current city policy -- expected to be finalized at the board's next meeting -- also includes bans on tobacco use in city parks and on the sale of cheap single cigars that are popular with young people.
Once the exact wording of the changes is decided upon, the board will hold public hearings before taking a final vote.
Tri-Town Health Public Health Director James Wilusz, who is advising the city board in the policy change process, reiterated on Wednesday options for limiting the number of tobacco sales licenses that have been implemented in other communities. Those include freezing the current number or reducing the number through attrition to reach a target figure.
"I prefer to reduce the number available" said Chairwoman Roberta "Bobbi" Orsi. She suggested a figure of 25 -- down from the current 49 -- as the goal, which was accepted with some reservations by the other board members.
Under the proposal, as businesses selling tobacco products close, no further new licenses would be issued until the target figure is reached. The board in recent years reduced the number from 60 to 49 by banning sales at pharmacies, and officials said the number per capita now is about average in the state.
However, Orsi, city Health Director Gina Armstrong and others said the city has one of the highest rates of tobacco use in Massachusetts and more should be done to restrict its use.
"I feel we are losing the battle," Orsi said.
The proposed new policy also includes an extensive statement of purpose concerning the goals -- such as preventing tobacco use by youth, reducing rates in adults and preventing exposure to secondhand smoke.
Asked how long it might take to see a reduction in the number of sales licenses, Wilusz said it would likely take many years. "I haven't seen a lot of turnover," he said, referring to licenseholders.
The board agreed to include a ban on tobacco use in city-owned parks, but still is considering language changes to make it as specific as possible.
Concerning cheap cigars, the ban would prevent the sale of cigars costing less than $2.50 and require that at least two be sold at a time.
"Cheap, flavored cigars are very popular with youth," Wilusz said. "They are very prevalent in Pittsfield."
Joan Rubel and Zack Kotleski of the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership recently did a survey for the city of cigar advertising and availability in Pittsfield. Kotleski told the board last month that 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 proposed policy also includes a 500-foot buffer zone from schools on tobacco sales, which would not affect current license holders but would not allow them to be issued to a new owner.
The minimum age for purchasing tobacco products would remain at 18.
Board members discussed ways to mitigate some of the effects on business owners. Jay Green, Cynthia Guyer and Dominica D'Avella said the board should explore taking into account density of locations within a section of the city or similar guidelines.
Wilusz said that could be difficult to work into a policy. He suggested mapping where existing shops selling the products are located in Pittsfield to help the board make final changes.
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.
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