The Board of Health on Monday voted to enact new tobacco regulations after a brief public hearing with little opposition.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Health on Monday voted to enact new tobacco regulations aimed at cutting back on youth smoking and smoking in public places.
The board held a public hearing on the proposed regulations that drew comments from four members of the public — all in favor of the proposed regulations.
Although no one rose in opposition to the changes, the board did receive written communication from a couple of New England retail merchants associations expressing concern about the rules.
After a hearing that took about 25 minutes and little discussion from the panel, the board voted unanimously to put the new rules into effect on Jan. 5, 2015.
Starting then, smoking will be prohibited at bars and restaurants in any exterior space where food or beverages are "received, stored, prepared, served or consumed." The town already had a ban on interior spaces.
Most of the new regulations impact retailers. Pharmacies will not be allowed to sell any tobacco products. The sale of flavored tobacco products (other than menthol, mint or wintergreen) will be prohibited. And single cigar sales will be banned, except for "premium" cigars with a price of $2.50 or more.
Anti-tobacco advocates argue that flavored tobacco and single sales are two of the methods the industry uses to lure young smokers.
Lois Daunis of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's nb21 program praised the board for taking steps to curb smoking in youth.
"We survey youth about substance abuse," she said. "Since 2006, the survey shows a steady decline of students ever having tried cigarettes or having used them in the last 30 days. However, many students are still smoking."
In fact, up to 5 percent of the teens surveyed in Northern Berkshire County report "heavy use," defined as half a pack a day or more, Daunis said.
"We've also seen a spike recently in Northern Berkshire communities in the use of smokeless tobacco products," she said. "Nearly 20 percent of youth have tried them."
D.J. Wilson of the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program told the board that while "e-cigarettes" may be less of a health risk than cigarettes, they still cause addiction to tobacco in young people.
"There are dual users, who use both [products] depending on where they are," Wilson said. "That's the perfect world for the tobacco industry."
E-cigarettes, like conventional tobacco products, are manufactured in a wide variety of flavors — like Gummy Bears — that appeal directly to young smokers.
"If you look at little cigar bans and flavor bans together, it will have a significant impact," said Joan Rubel of the Berkshire Area Health Education Center, who advised the Board of Health when it was developing the new rules.
On Monday, the board also heard from Gail Lesure of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. She reminded the panel about the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Retired physician Dr. Thomas Hyde used Monday's hearing to pitch a suggestion to the board.
Hyde, a Williamstown resident, suggested that the next step for the town could be to ban tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21.
"The overwhelming majority of high school students who get [cigarettes] get them from people who are 18, 19, 20 years old," Hyde said. "The data shows that having 21 years old as the minimum age you can buy a tobacco product reduces teen smoking."
According to a 2012 Surgeon General's Report cited on the American Cancer Society website, nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started the habit by age 18.
One Massachusetts town, Needham, pioneered a 21-year-old minimum to buy tobacco back in 1995. Since then, 29 Massachusetts communities have followed suit, Wilson told the board.
"This graph shows you that the rate of high school smoking in Needham went from around 16 percent to around 7 percent in the first four years after they passed the law," Hyde said, showing the board data to support his argument.
"The fact of the matter is high school smoking is dependent on the 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who buy cigarettes and share them or sell them to their friends."
Members of the board at Monday's meeting seemed enthusiastic about adding Williamstown to the list of towns that have banned tobacco sales to anyone under 21, but they expressed reluctance to take that step immediately without seeking public input.
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Williams Men and Women Win NCAA Cross Country Regional
BRUNSWICK, Maine -- The Williams College men's and women's cross country teams each won team titles at the NCAA Division III New England Regional Championships on Saturday.
Freshman Eva Borton led the the Williams women, placing eighth in 21 minutes, 39 seconds -- 20 seconds behind individual champion Izzi Gengaro of MIT.
The Williams women finished with 64 points, edging runner-up MIT by 20 points.
In the men's race, Williams placed five finishers in the top eight to run away with the team title. The Ephs finished with 24 points, well ahead of runner-up Colby (93 poitns).
Last week, the Boston Globe reported that U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling has subpoenaed records in at least six communities, including Great Barrington, the home of Berkshire County's first pot shop opened since recreational marijuana was legalized in the commonwealth.
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Last week's vote tied a financial commitment to the multipurpose building to a decision to spend an equal amount on renovations to the playing fields — a project that already has been bid once but rejected after prices came in significantly higher than expected.
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