Tobacco regs may get tighter
Greenfield Board of Health considers limiting electronic cigarettes
GREENFIELD — Smokers in Greenfield are currently banned from smoking in bars and restaurants, workplaces, in municipal buildings and in parks and playgrounds, but if the Board of Health has its way, electronic cigarettes will soon be added to the ban and smokers of any kind will also be banned from outdoor eating areas at restaurants and at all outdoor bus stops and taxi stands.
Nicole Zabko, the town’s health director, said the Board of Health decided to focus on electronic cigarettes, because they are currently allowed to be smoked in places that prohibit tobacco products.
“The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes and they are unregulated,” said Zabko. “They are really an unknown at this point and we are trying to protect the public. We don’t know what’s being vaporized and what it might be doing as a second-hand product.”
Zabko said the ban of electronic cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited is the biggest change to the board’s regulations.
She said that smokers will also be banned from any outdoor area where food and beverages are sold, served or consumed.
The new regulations, if passed, will be added to regulations already in place for several years, including no smoking in workplaces, bars, private clubs, restaurants, motels and hotels, nursing homes, tobacco stores, within 20 feet of a municipal building, town-owned playgrounds, athletic fields, parks and swimming areas.
The board will hold a public hearing on the new regulations on Thursday at 5 p.m. in Town Hall.
Meanwhile, come Feb. 1, an earlier rule banning tobacco sales in pharmacies will go into effect. In November, the health board banned tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes from being sold in pharmacies. The local businesses that will be affected are CVS Pharmacy, Big Y Supermarket, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Walgreens Pharmacy and Rite Aid Pharmacy.
Zabko said the board’s concern is enforcement.
“Just like when we banned smoking in town parks, we have to think about how the ban will be enforced,” said Zabko. “We’ll put up signs to remind people, but we’ll have to depend on people to comply.”
Zabko said if someone is observed smoking in a restricted area by a town enforcer, which could be a police officer or health agent, they will be approached. She said the board also hopes that nonsmokers will report violations.
“If someone calls us with a complaint, we’ll investigate,” said Zabko.
She said there will be fines imposed, but said she’s hoping all it will take is a verbal warning for most offenders.
Fines will be the same as they are now: $100 for the first violation, $200 for a second violation occurring within two years of the first, and $300 for a third or subsequent violation occurring within two years of the second.
“We’ll be doing a lot of educating people about the new laws and regulations,” she said.
Zabko said the new regulations will be posted on the town’s website with links to state regulations, which the town also follows.
“The biggest problem is that many of these products target young people,” said Zabko. “For instance, blunt wraps come in flashy colors and are geared toward youth sales.”
Zabko said blunt wraps, which were banned at the same time the board banned pharmacies from selling tobacco products, are supposed to be used to roll your own cigar, but many times are used for marijuana.
Zabko said even cigar sales are now limited in town. She said only packages of four or more will be allowed to be sold unless one cigar costs $2.50 or more.
“Again, we’re focusing on our youth,” she said. “There are some cigars now sold one at a time that cost only 99 cents and kids can afford those.”
Zabko said smoking many times begins when someone is in their teens, so the town is trying to find ways to prevent that from happening.
“This isn’t going away,” said Zabko. “These new regulations are heading us in the right direction.”
What hazards or potential benefits e-cigarettes pose is now being debated nationally.
“My big question with e-cigarettes is whether it puts youth on a pathway to smoking,” acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak said recently. He and others fear that e-cigarettes could undo recent public health gains.
A surgeon general’s report released Friday says evidence now suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence “may have lasting adverse consequences for brain development.”
The battery-operated devices heat nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerin into a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. Unlike conventional tobacco-burning cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not deliver poisonous tars or carbon monoxide.
Currently, the devices are regulated only by some local governments. The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, but has not yet done so.
E-cigarette backers say the health effects of the key component — nicotine — are well established and minimal for most everyone except pregnant mothers. They note that nicotine gum and patches have been used as smoking cessation tools for many years.