Stories that endure: Good fight against tobacco far from over in Valley

Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Northampton continued this year to provide leadership in the war on smoking by enacting tougher regulations designed to protect nonsmokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, and to make it more difficult for young people to obtain tobacco products.

In the first revision to the city’s tobacco regulations since 2010, the Northampton Board of Health extended the ban on smoking to private clubs, Pulaski Park, Look Park and other parks, athletic fields, playgrounds and swimming areas owned by the city. Northampton already had prohibited smoking at workplaces, restaurants and bars, indoor sports arenas, health care facilities, nursing homes, public transportation, schools, school grounds and school buses.

The use of e-cigarettes and smoking medical marijuana is also covered by the ban on smoking tobacco.

The Board of Health also adopted regulations targeting sales of tobacco and nicotine-delivery products to children under 18. Clerks are now required to ask all customers, regardless of age, for identification before selling such products, and businesses caught selling to minors face stiffer penalties. And no longer allowed are the sale of tobacco-based blunt wraps and single cigars or any package of two or more priced at under $5. Those inexpensive products tend to be attractive to minors, according to health officials.

Board of Health Chairwoman Donna Salloom said the tougher restrictions are designed to protect all Northampton residents, especially children. “One of the things we know is that secondhand smoke is dangerous,” Salloom said. “If you don’t smoke, you shouldn’t have to be exposed in public places where people gather, particularly children.”

Meanwhile, some Valley communities are considering raising the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Amherst is among them, said Board of Health Chairwoman Nancy Gilbert, because research shows that when teens begin using tobacco before their brains are fully developed, they are more likely to become addicted than if they start when they are older.

“What we really want to do is protect the most vulnerable citizens in our community, and we base our decision on the most recent research,” Gilbert said.

Leverett and Montague in Franklin County also are considering raising the minimum age to 21, as well as banning flavored tobacco products (except menthol) because they are enticing to minors. At least a dozen communities in Massachusetts have already raised the legal tobacco purchase age to either 19 or 21, and New York City made it 21 last year.

These are smart moves in line with findings in the 2014 report by the U.S. Surgeon General titled “The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress.”

While the percentage of adults who smoke has fallen from 42 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2012, that means 42 million Americans still smoke. And since the first surgeon general’s report in 1964 warning about the health hazards of smoking, more than 20 million Americans have died prematurely due to the effects of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, according to this year’s report. That is more than 10 times the number of Americans who have died in all the nation’s wars.

Furthermore, the report finds that if current trends continue, some 5.6 million American youths who are not yet 18 will die prematurely during adulthood as a result of their smoking.

“In order to free the next generation from these burdens, we must redouble our tobacco control efforts and enlist nongovernmental partners — and society as a whole — to share in this responsibility. ... We must all share in this most worthwhile effort to end the tobacco epidemic,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a preface to the report.

The initiatives adopted or being considered this year in the Valley already are heeding that call.

Stanley Moulton can be reached at


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