The small town of Westminster, Massachusetts fumed Wednesday night during a debate on a health board proposal to ban the sale of all tobacco and nicotine products — including cigarettes, chew, flavored cigars and e-cigarettes. If passed, this community would be the first in the nation to ban tobacco to any extent.
Public health groups advocate for the ban to promote improving public health. Smokers, shopkeepers, and their supporters view the ban as government encroachment on their personal rights.
“What I find terrifying is government overstepping,” said resident and nonsmoker Jennifer Shenk.
Brian Vincent, a shopkeeper whose business sells over $100,000 in tobacco products annually, voiced his concerns. “Having other adults decide what legal item we’re not allowed to consume just makes you wonder: If this passes, what could be next? Sugar? Bacon?” he said.
Vincent has collected over 900 signatures on his petition to fight the ban.
Nonsmoker and mother of three, Vicki Tobin, supports the ban as a means of keeping cigarettes out of sight and out of mind for her children. “I just think it’s a great step in a positive way to promote a healthy town, a healthy lifestyle,” said Tobin.
Wednesday night, sixty residents sat before several hundred community members in Westminster Elementary school’s gymnasium to speak their opinions regarding the ban.
A mere 25 minutes in, Board of Health chairwoman Andrea Crete brought the hearing to a close as disruptive shouts in the audience from the ban’s opposition made continuation impossible.
“The crowd’s getting out of control and the room’s filled to capacity,” said Crete. “We don’t want any riots.”
The Westminster Board of Health will vote on the issue December 1. Residents will have until then to submit public comments.