In This Town, Tobacco Sales Could Soon Be on the Blacklist

Citing health concerns, Westminster, Mass., wants to be the first American city to ban cancer sticks.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Nov 10, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It sounds like a scene out of the film Footloose: A small town decides to ban its way to “better” behavior. But instead of prohibiting harmless dancing, health officials in tiny Westminster, Massachusetts, are trying to make the municipality the first place in America to outlaw the sale of cancer-causing tobacco products.

“The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people,” Elizabeth Swedberg, a city health agent, said to The Associated Press about the proposal. Swedberg said officials in the 7,400-person town have had enough with kid-friendly candy-flavored e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products being sold in local shops. “The board was getting frustrated trying to keep up with this,” she said.

Sound draconian? The town’s proposal is just the latest shot across the bow in the fight against big tobacco. Last month, members of Congress and the Pentagon proposed banning the sale of tobacco products on military bases and ships to improve the well-being of soldiers. The controversial proposal raised the ire of plenty of members of the armed services, yet when someone joins the Army or Navy, that individual ceases to be a civilian. Once on a military base or ship, that individual can no longer purchase whatever he or she wants at the local corner store. But across the pond in the U.K., health officials are thinking along the same hard-core lines as the folks in Massachusetts.

In June, the British Medical Association passed a motion recommending that the nation’s government ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 2000. According to the association, if teenagers and young adults have nowhere to buy traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or snuff, they’re less likely to take up dangerous habits, thus reducing the likelihood that they’ll get lung cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses.

According to Swedberg, here in the U.S, premature death from smoking is in store for a staggering 5.6 million American children under the age of 18. However, retailers who oppose the ban in Westminster seem to be thinking less about potential fatalities and more about the financial bottom line.

“Nobody is going to stop smoking because this town decided to ban cigarettes,” Michael Fratturelli of Westminster Liquors told The Boston Globe. “Businesses won’t want to come to this town anymore, and the value of our businesses will go down.”

Another convenience-store owner, Brian Vincent, who runs Vincent’s Country Store in Westminster, has launched a petition against the proposal. “Where do you draw the line—a candy ban because it causes diabetes? Are we going to ban bacon because it causes [high] cholesterol? It seems like a slippery slope,” Vincent told the paper.

Vincent’s petition has gained so much steam that local health officials are holding a public hearing about the proposal on Nov. 13. Even if it passes, a ban on tobacco sales may not be enough to keep folks from puffing away. “When you’re a smoker, you’ll quit when you’re ready, not because someone told you to,” local resident and smoker Colleen Conner told the AP.