Northborough Health Board Mulls Tougher Tobacco Rules

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The Northborough Board of Health held its first public hearing on proposed tobacco regulations on Tuesday.
The Northborough Board of Health held its first public hearing on proposed tobacco regulations on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Bret Matthew

NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The Northborough Board of Health held a public hearing Tuesday to gather input on proposed changes to the town's tobacco regulations.

While current regulations only address tobacco products, the new changes would include other nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes. The changes would prohibit smoking these products on several town properties, including the library, the senior center, Town Tall, the DPW garage and the police and fire stations.

Northborough resident Richard Nieber took issue with the restrictions against e-cigarettes. He said they do not contain tobacco and do not even have to contain nicotine if the user chooses.

“If they say, ‘You can't smoke that,’ how do they know if its only water vapor?" he said.

“The burden of proof is on you,” responded Health agent Jaime Terry.

Even if they don’t contain tobacco, board member Dilip Jain said he worries about nicotine delivery products acting as a gateway to smoking real cigarettes for children.

"We're trying to keep nicotine away from kids to keep them from getting hooked on smoking," he said.

When Nieber tried to argue that nicotine may have health benefits, Jain was not convinced. "The medical community does not support that," he said.

Another proposed change will prohibit smoking within 25 feet of outdoor seating areas of restaurants where food is served.

This prompted questions from Paul Town, manager of Juniper Hill Golf Course. Pointing out that some golfers will drive their carts within 25 feet of the clubhouse service window to order food while smoking a cigar, he wondered if he would have to ask his patrons to stop smoking.

Terry said that they would be violating the regulation, and asked if there could be a separate parking area for smokers outside of the 25 foot radius. Board member Dierdre O’Connor asked if smokers could simply leave their cigars in their carts while they order food.

Jain said that he did not foresee a loss of business due to the regulations. When the state banned smoking in restaurants and bars several years ago, he said, owners complained about losing customers but “people went back out, and it wasn’t an issue.”

Another major change proposed in the regulations will increase the “tolling period” between violations from one year to two years. This means that if an establishment is caught selling tobacco products to minors, any subsequent violation within the next two years will be considered a second offense, for which the penalties are more severe. Terry said that the change is meant to make establishment owners more diligent when selling tobacco products.

The Board of Health will continue its public hearing on these proposals on March 12.

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