Jim Wilusz said that 90 percent of the current smokers started before they were 18 years old.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health adopted new regulations aimed to reduce smoking prevalence in youth.
The board held a public hearing on Wednesday and then approved the new tobacco regulations.
The regulations include cutting the number of tobacco retail permits in half, banning any new vendor from opening within 500 feet of a school and mandating that cigar be sold in packages of at least two and cost no less than $5.
Additionally, the board adopted a ban on smoking in city-owned parks.
"We know today that tobacco has killed 10 times the number of the people killed in all of the wars ... If we continue in this course without strict, progressive tobacco control, 5.6 million children will die," said Chairwoman Roberta Orsi. "This is a community issue, not just a Board of Health issue."
"Youth cigar use has surpassed the adult smoking prevalence rates," Wilusz said, adding that 90 percent of current smokers started before the age of 18.
The reduction in the number of permits and buffer zone won't happen immediately and the 50 or so current vendors will retain their rights to do business. However, if a store goes out of business, the permit will be extinct.
"This does not include existing retailers," Wilusz said. "This really addresses new applicants."
Setting a minimum packaging size for cigars intends to make it more unaffordable for youth. Those cigars tend to be flavored and marketed in colorful packages, which has led to an increase in youth smoking, Wilusz said.
Resident Zack Kotleski told the board he knows firsthand how individual cigars lead to smoking addiction. Kotteski started smoking single cigars at the age of 16 and the habit grew from there. He says if these regulations were in place then, he may not have begun smoking.
"The difference between a dollar or .75 cents and a $5 bill is a lot at that age," he told the board.
Carol McMann, who works as a mentor to those going through smoking cessation, said it will help those quitting, too. They are more likely to convince themselves to purchase a single cigar rather than an entire pack. And then, just one puff transforms the mind back to that of a regular smoker, she said.
"It takes very little for someone who has recently quit smoking to relapse," she said. "The less opportunity we give people who have quit smoking to relapse, the better."
However, with the further regulation on vendors, Phil Tangora doesn't believe it will significantly help the rate. Tangora is an area marketing representative for Xtra Mart convenience stores and he says further regulation just moves the business around.
Joan Rubel of the Berkshire Tobacco Free Community Partnership displayed flavored cigars, which are contributing to a growing number of youth smokers.
"Last year, we've seen a decline of 25 percent but we've seen the reverse in Connecticut. They are up 25 percent. The same thing New Hampshire, too," Tangora said of the state's cigarette tax increase.
Convenience stores still make 40 percent of their revenue from tobacco, Tangora said, so all these regulations do is help vendors outside of the city.
"It's not going to work just in Pittsfield. You are going to push the retailers out," he told the board.
However, board members said that isn't their concern. The Board of Health's focus is on protecting public health. Further, Wilusz said there has been no evidence to back up the claims that vendors will leave.
Wilusz said when the state banned smoking in restaurants and bars many people feared the same. However, no loss of revenue has been recorded, he said. The same goes for the ban in pharmacies.
Board member Jay Green went on to add that these regulations have proven track records in other areas.
"We've put a lot of thought and effort into this," Green said. "We aren't doing anything different here in Pittsfield that hasn't been done somewhere else in the state."
And the board had a lot of support for the updated regulations. Citing health concerns, smoking prevalence statistics and anecdotes, many residents voiced support. The regulations were approved unanimously.