The town of Westminster, Massachusetts may be the first to implement a tobacco ban in the United States, Law360 reports. According to the town’s website, the Westminster Board of Health wants all stores 50 miles northwest of Boston to stop selling all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
The sale of flavored tobacco products is already prohibited in New York City and Chicago, but a full ban has never been imposed.
“If the proposal passes, Westminster will indeed be the first community in the nation to ban all tobacco sales,” said executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute Mark Gottlieb to Law360. “But we expect to see other towns move aggressively to promote a culture of health and wellness by severely restricting tobacco sales in the near future.” He also stated that tobacco is banned in pharmacies in over 80 Massachusetts towns and 30 states have raised the age of tobacco sales to 21.
Even though state law prohibits selling tobacco to minors, the proposal asserts that tobacco use in the adolescent population is a serious health concern. Teenagers are nearly twice as likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes if they smoke e-cigarettes compared to those who have never smoked, according to data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey cited in the draft regulation.
As the proposal points out, the surgeon general states that an adolescent’s brain development is influenced by nicotine. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, and can also lead to heart disease, the proposal says. An FDA analysis showed low levels of nicotine in e-cigarette cartridges that were labeled as having none, the proposal said.
The draft regulation emphasizes that the town health board has the authority to make “reasonable health regulations” under Massachusetts state law. Additionally, the state supreme court has maintained that “the right to engage in business must yield to the paramount right of government to protect the public health,” Law360 reports.
A $300 fine would be imposed on violators of the drafted regulation. Health permits would also be suspended or revoked. On November 12th, the town health board is holding a holding a public hearing on the draft regulation.
Vince Willmore, a spokesman for advocacy group Tobacco Free Kids, told Law360 “Massachusetts and its communities have long been national leaders in implementing effective policies to reduce tobacco use and its devastating toll,”
“We welcome efforts by local communities to develop innovative approaches that are appropriate to their situation and can further reduce tobacco use, which is still the number one preventable cause of death in our country.”