Northampton smoking ban gets further airing

  • A sign at the entrance of Pulaski Park in Northampton declares it a smoke free area. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/28/2019 12:13:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Discussion of a proposed ban on smoking downtown continued Thursday at the Board of Health meeting at JFK Middle School, but no vote was taken on the issue.

The proposed rule, which the board has been considering for months, would prohibit smoking in most of the downtown business areas in both Northampton and Florence.

Smoking is already banned in many parts of the city. In 2014, the Board of Health banned all smoking in public and private clubs, workplaces, city parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming areas and nursing homes, within 25 feet of city buildings, in all outdoor areas of restaurants, and at bus stops and taxi cab waiting areas. Since then, police have not issued any tickets for smoking, but they have given roughly 50 warnings for smoking since 2006.

Many speakers on Thursday spoke against the proposed rule and expressed worry that it would lead to the targeting of homeless and other marginalized people.

Douglas Ross said he worried a ban could result in excessive use of law enforcement for people of color and disabled people.

“I see this, personally, as grandstanding and attempting to get rid of your undesirable people,” Ross said of the proposal.

Dana Goldblatt, a defense attorney in Northampton, also questioned the role of police in enforcing a ban. “I have a lot of concerns about that, partly because the Northampton police are very aggressive with the homeless population.”

Later in the meeting, board members asked Police Chief Jody Kasper about these concerns. “We don’t have a track record of using miscellaneous bylaws and regulations to target individuals,” she said.

Harrison Green of Easthampton asked the board why it’s not considering ridding the city of “far more toxic environmental factors” like emissions from vehicles, and questioned if it was because of the class of the polluters.

Still, several spoke in support of the proposed regulation.

Leah Berkowitz-Gosselin, a parent of a child with a reactive airway condition, said smoke can be an issue. “Tobacco smoke is unhealthy for everyone — especially those with asthma,” she said.

Berkowitz-Gosselin noted that the Valley can be a difficult place for those with asthma. Springfield, for example, has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country.

“I ask you to consider the impact secondhand smoke has on youth and adults in this community with high risk,” she said.

Ben Dion said that when walking downtown he and his family have had to stop “dead in their tracks” while someone walking in front of them lights a cigarette, and said he has the right to breathe clean air.

Board members discussed the proposed ban, as well as ways to enforce the ban that already exists in Pulaski Park. They also spoke to Shawn Porter, executive director of Look Park, about how the park enforces its ban.

“I think that enforcement is the issue here,” member Suzanne Smith said. “If we can find a way through the enforcement issues, then I would be in favor of moving in this area.”

“I’m concerned that there’s a population ... that feel they may be targeted,” said member Cynthia Suopis. “I just have a lot of questions about moving forward.”

Some attendees at the meeting expressed frustration about not being able to interact with the board and ask questions during the meeting after public comment at the beginning.

In the end, Board of Health members said they would continue to discuss the issue at their next meeting and review scientific papers about the issue in the meantime.

“This discussion about smoke-free downtown will continue,” said Merridith O’Leary, the city’s public health director. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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