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Smoking ban gets city’s OK

And, no, electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” are not exempt.

As of June 1, smoking will be prohibited in public and private clubs, workplaces, city parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming areas, nursing homes, within 25 feet of city buildings, all outdoor areas of restaurants and bus stops and taxi cab waiting areas.

Violators will be subject to a civil penalty, with an unspecified fine. Building owners and managers who flout the regulations will be fined $100 for the first offense, with the penalty increasing by $100 for each subsequent offense.

The regulations also restrict the sale of cigars, blunt wraps and e-cigarettes.

Any place smoking is prohibited, the use of electronic cigarettes is also prohibited under the regulations.

The six-member Board of Health voted unanimously Thursday evening to adopt the regulations.

About 12 people attended the hearing, six spoke during the public comment period, and all but one were supportive of the proposal.

William Mazuch, representing members of the American Legion Post, the only private club that will be affected by the regulations, spoke out against them, saying smoking within the confines of the Legion building was a freedom-of-choice issue.

Mazuch said members are informed when they apply to join it is a smoking establishment, applicants must be sponsored by three existing members and members are free to leave if the smoking bothers them. Several, including his brother in-law, have, he said.

Mazuch said he’s seen smoking, even at the Legion, become less and less popular over the years, even without new regulations in place.

“Left alone, I believe smoking will wither and die,” he said.

Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, disagreed that the regulations are a violations of anyone’s rights.

People can smoke wherever they want, she said, “just not in a place where you may harm other people.”

Sbarra also spoke in favor of the regulations that would prohibit the sale of loose cigars or packs of two or more cigars priced less than $5, because, she said, those products are typically aimed at youths.

Sbarra brought a pack of 20 thin cigars to the hearing that were purchased for $2.39 and said there are cigars on the market that come in flavors specifically targeted at young people, like “gummy bear.”

“That is not a flavor that is designed to induce adults to pick up a product,” she said.

Sales of blunt wraps in the city will also be banned under the new regulations, as will free samples and coupons for tobacco products.

Sandra Mandel spoke in favor of the regulations, telling the board she quit smoking in 1984 and called it, “the second hardest thing” she ever did in her life.

The hardest thing she ever did was watching her husband, who quit smoking at the same time she did, die of lung cancer seven years ago, she said.

“When used as directed, (smoking) will kill you,” she said.

Johnathan Letendre, a junior at Northampton High School, said he comes from a family of smokers and is in favor of the ban in parks, because otherwise he and his family are restricted to the smoking area, if there is one.

“It’s really good to ban in parks because kids like me and younger than me can enjoy that time without inhaling tobacco,” he said.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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