Massachusetts town pushes total ban on all tobacco, nicotine products

To say that the town of Westminster, Massachusetts is small doesn’t really do the word justice. Clocking in at barely 7,000 residents it isn’t exactly Gotham, but it is now the center of a debate over prohibition. This isn’t the usual ban on alcohol, but a proposed ban on the sale of any and all tobacco and nicotine products.

Residents of the small town of Westminster, Massachusetts, are fuming over a proposed ban on the sale of all tobacco products within town limits. A town meeting held Wednesday evening to discuss the proposal ended after barely 20 minutes when attendees refused to stop clapping and shouting.

A draft of the proposed ban, first released by the town’s Board of Health on October 27, says 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.

Can they do this? The answer to that is a resounding yes. Constitutionally mandated alcohol sales prohibition has been over since well before pretty much anyone reading this was born, and yet there are dry counties to be found in various parts of the country. I don’t know if it was ever successfully done for tobacco before, but I don’t see any precedent against such a law. There isn’t even a question of executive regulatory overreach here. Chairwoman Andrea Crete and the rest of the three person Board of Health are all elected officials, and if the citizens are upset enough about it, any ban instituted can surely be overturned after the next election.

I’m not exactly sure why this passes constitutional muster, except that perhaps selling some specific (and legal) item isn’t an assured right. If the item in question could be tied to some religious practice or if the act of selling could be framed as a form of speech, there might be an argument to be made, but for now that remains entirely hypothetical as far as I know.

But should they do it? There are plenty of arguments against it being expressed by the locals. Stopping sales in Westminster won’t change much of anything in terms of smoking rates. A look at the map shows that even if you live smack in the center of town you’ll only have to drive about two miles to the east into Gardner to buy your smokes. And that leads to the concerns of some local business owners.

Brian Vincent, owner of Vincent’s Country Store, said he was concerned about a loss of business. “We need to keep Westminster dollars being spent in Westminster, not going to the next town over,” he said…

Vincent said tobacco products account for about 6 percent of his sales, and his concern is not just about the loss of those sales, but other items people often buy when they are getting cigarettes, such as cold drinks, bags of chips, and lottery tickets.

He said that while tobacco products may be less than 10 percent of sales in grocery stores, they can account for one-third or more of total sales at convenience stores, industry analyses have shown.

Here’s a thought: all of the groups who are so opposed to fossil fuels and determined to lower carbon emissions should get together in their towns and ban the sale of gasoline, oil, propane for BBQ grills and the sale of electricity not generated entirely by wind or solar. Let’s see how that works out.