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Pittsfield last updated its tobacco policies in 2019. Here's what the Board of Health wants to change

Local, state officials crackdown on illegal sale of flavored cigarettes and vapes (copy)

The state banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in June 1, 2020. Now the Pittsfield's Board of Health is updating its tobacco sale regulations to meet the two year old changes.

PITTSFIELD — The city’s Board of Health has drafted changes to tobacco sales ordinances that would add state language meant to crack down on the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products and increase the punishment for businesses that violate the new rules.

The draft policy, unanimously approved by the board during its meeting Wednesday, would be the first update to the city’s tobacco sales rules in three years. But they’re not in effect yet.

The board plans to hold public hearings on the updates they’ve worked for six months to craft, in partnership with Tri-Town Health Department Director James Wilusz. The Tri-Town Health Department, which serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, leads a tobacco awareness program regionally.

Here’s what you need to know about the draft policy:

Updated definitions

Pittsfield’s last tobacco sales policy updates came in January 2019 — some 12 months before the state completed its own overhaul of tobacco sales laws.

The updated state law incorporated language about nicotine vaping and flavored vaping and tobacco products.

The draft put forth by the Board of Health would add the state’s definitions for the terms “tobacco product flavor enhancer” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems.” The second term encompasses electronic cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, pipes as well as vaping pens and hookah pens.

The sale of flavored tobacco products is banned. Tobacco retailers are not allowed to sell electronic nicotine delivery products with more than 35 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter unless the products are sold at “adult-only tobacco stores.”

The draft policy also updates the definition for “blunt wraps” to clarify that products sold as cigar “roll-your-own” kits are considered blunt wraps. The new draft maintains the city’s prohibition on the sale of blunt wraps.

New boundariesThe draft policy would increase the space between any new adult-only tobacco stores and their competitors. Any new tobacco store opening in Pittsfield would need to be located further than 25 feet from existing tobacco sales permit holders.

Stronger punishmentsThe board plans to strengthen the penalties for businesses caught violating the ordinance once it is in effect.

The ordinance separates violations into two groups: those that violate state laws on tobacco sales and those that violate Pittsfield specific rules.

For violations of state law, the draft ordinance would punish a first violation of the ordinance by a tobacco permit holder or their employees with a $1,000 fine.

If that violation includes selling tobacco to someone under the age of 21, the board will suspend the business’s tobacco sales permit for at least one business day or up to 30 consecutive days.

Additional violations within three years of the first violation would result in additional fines and permit suspensions.

A second violation would be punishable by a $2,000 fine and permit suspension for at least seven consecutive business days or up to 30 consecutive business days.

Three or more violations would result in a $5,000 fine and permit suspension of 30 business days.

For violations of Pittsfield-specific rules, the fine and suspension structure would remain the same but the probation period would expand from two years to three years.

The board takes a three strike approach to the sale of tobacco to people under the age of 21. If a business is caught selling tobacco products to underage customers three times within a year, its permit will not be renewed by the board in the following permit year.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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