Monday, November 24, 2014

The Smoking Lamp Remains Lit in Westminster, Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, usually when there’s some sort of pro-environmental, pro-health (known to some as nanny-state) ordinance enacted, it happens in some liberal and/or well-heeled enclave. You can’t buy a single-serve plastic bottle of Poland Springs water in Concord.  You can’t tote your groceries home in plastic bags on Nantucket. America may run on Dunkin, but it won’t be served in a Styrofoam cup in Brookline or Amherst. And they don’t call it the People’s Republic of Cambridge for nothing.

Then there’s Westminster, stuck out there in the middle of nowhere (i.e., Worcester County). Not especially ritzy (median family income a tad below the state in general). Definitely no one’s idea of liberal. (In 2012, they voted for Romney (53) over Obama (48) for president, and Brown (63) over Warren (38) for senator, which, electoral wise, makes them kind of double-l losers in that election.)

So it was kind of surprising to read that the town’s Board of Health had proposed a ban on tobacco sales, which would have made it the first municipality in the country to do so.

The Board proposal would have put put quite a few items on the verboten list. It would:

…prohibit the sale of any tobacco or nicotine product whether it is intended to be “smoked, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means.” That includes, but is not limited to: cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, blunt wraps, pipe tobacco, snuff, or electronic versions of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, and any other products that vaporize tobacco, according to the proposal. (Source: Newsweek).

I come down solidly on the side of being against smoking. I don’t do it. I don’t like it. I won’t allow it in my home. And that goes for a dip or a chaw or an e-cig vape, too.

I especially despise cigars.

The other day, I was waiting for a walk sign with three well-dressed, early-middle-aged men  - they had the look of fin serv types, maybe in for the Harvard-Yale Game – all puffing away on cigars. I was behind them, but if they’d turned around, they’d have seen me giving them and their stinking cigars the stink eye.

A pox on their Cohibas!

I wouldn’t mind seeing a ban on smoking in all public places, including the sidewalks.

And I shudder when I think of what a short while ago it was that we had to endure smoking in restaurants, movie theaters, offices, planes, buses, trains… Gag, gasp, choke. Even during the brief time in my life when I was something of a smoker, I didn’t do all that much of it in public. Yes, at work – I was a waitress and we smoked during breaks. And yes, if I were in a bar or at a party. Other than that…

And yet, if folks want to smoke, dip, chew, or vape, they can have at it, as long as they’re out of nose and lung range of me.

And, certainly, as long as tobacco remains legal, stores should be allowed to sell it. (This being my philosophical case, I don’t see why tobacco shouldn’t be advertised, either.)

No one’s saying that smoking is good for anyone. No one’s saying it should be encouraged in anyway. No one’s saying that there shouldn’t be special care taken to keep it out of the hands of kids.

But stores should be able to sell it.

Which is apparently what most of the folks in Westminster feel, as well.

Once the ban was proposed, the town folk were fuming, smoke was coming out of their ears, a firestorm was set off…

In light – hah! – of all the pushback, the Board of Health backed off.

The Westminster Board of Health withdrew its proposal to ban all tobacco sales on Wednesday after receiving criticism and outrage from the audience at a meeting last week. (Source:

Vox populi, in all it’s full, scratchy throated, rasping rage.

At least one of the Board members – Ed Simoncini – was upfront about why he voted against the ban:

“It is obvious the town is against it and therefore I am against it,” Simoncini told the Globe of the proposal.

Profile in courage, maybe not, but at least he’s being honest.

So the smoking lamp remains lit in Westminster. The town’s citizens and storekeepers can exhale now, and breathe (if they can stand the smoke-filled air) a collective sigh of relief.

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