ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health finally passed a tobacco permit cap after months of discussion that will go into action Oct. 1.
After multiple amendments and information sessions, the Board of Health approved the new regulation last wee that would set an initial cap of 12 tobacco sales permits in Adams.
"We have a cap," Chairman David Rhoads said. "Thank you all very much."
Late last year, the Board of Health agreed to implement a new regulation that would limit the amount of tobacco sales permits allowed in town.
Originally the board planned to set the cap at 11 but decided to change this after hearing from the public. Many who called in feared the cap would limit possible new businesses from coming into town.
"I think we have to be careful to not dissuade new businesses, and I am not opposed to increasing it," board member Laura Grandchamp said.
Board member Peter Hoyt also voted in favor, but he said he did not think the cap would do "damage" to business in Adams.
The cap would eventually ramp down to nine. This is in line with the one per 1,000 capita guide the board decided to work with.
Businesses with existing permits would still be able to sell their businesses with their permit, but once a permit is revoked or retired, it will be gone forever.
Right now there are 10 existing permits. The two additional permits allowed would be eliminated if not used within the next two years. In October 2021, one permit would be eliminated if left unused. This would also be the case for the second in October 2022.
The new regulation also includes a 500-foot buffer for newly permitted establishments. They must be this far away from schools, playgrounds, athletic fields, and other permitted establishments.
Before the vote, the board opened up the hearing to the public.
Tri-Town Health Director James Wilusz spoke said the adult smoking rate in Adams is 26.2 percent. The state average is 13.7 percent.
He said 130 municipalities in the commonwealth have set caps. In Berkshire County, North Adams, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Williamstown, and Lanesborough have all set caps.
Joyce Brewer, program manager for the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership and an Adams resident, said smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death in America.
"We can do better for the kids growing up in our community," she said. "If we cap and reduce the number of tobacco sales available, we can decrease the exposure to young people."
D.J. Wilson, public health liaison with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the Board of Health was taking a step in the right direction and added it is hard to keep up with the tobacco industry because it is constantly creating new products.
He added that the cap would be a good thing for existing businesses because it would limit competition.
There were more voices in opposition to the cap. Selectman and Board of Health liaison James Bush said the cap was not a good fit for Adams and would hurt potential incoming business.
"Our downtown district is very small to start with, and we just can't do this," Bush said. "I understand what you are trying to do, but it isn't going to work ... We just can't afford to do this in the town of Adams."
He also felt that the hefty fine would already be enough to deter businesses from selling to kids. He said it was parents' responsibility to make sure their kids aren't smoking.
Business owner Pierre Kareh agreed and said he did not think the cap would really change anything. He felt the responsibility should lie with the parents.
"From my point of view as a business owner ... I think it has to fall back on the parents who have to raise their kids," he said. "We think we can take that off the parents' shoulders."
Selectman and longtime smoker Richard Blanchard agreed that the town should do all it can to limit underage smoking, but he felt, in reality, the cap would make no difference.
"As a smoker for 41 years I guarantee you if you limit where I can buy it I am still going to buy it somewhere," he said. "I don't care if I have to travel and another couple of minutes."
He said the cap would only "curb growth" in town.
The vote was unanimous.