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Northampton health board wants to expand smoking ban

  • Brianna Mills, 26, a nursing student from Marietta, Ga., smokes next to Woodruff Park as a park ambassador passes by on the sidewalk, Friday, July 26, 2013, in Atlanta. "No Smoking" signs are going up in parks, beaches and other outdoor venues across the country, but some experts are questioning whether there's enough medical evidence to support the trend. AP PHOTO



Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A proposal to ban smoking in most public areas of downtown Florence and Northampton, which could be the first in the state, is going to be the subject of a public forum on Thursday.

The proposal would amend Board of Health regulations to prohibit smoking in both the Northampton central business district and the Florence central business district, with the exception of designated smoking areas. This ban would not apply to private areas.

“I haven’t found any,” said Merridith O’Leary, the city’s public health director, when asked if other communities in the Bay State had such measures.

She said most of the communities that she’s found with such measures in place have been in California. Northampton already has banned smoking in public parks.

The forum will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Hearing Room, on the second floor of the 210 Main St. building. It will be part of the Board of Health’s meeting, and both Mayor David Narkewicz, Police Chief Jody Kasper and Cheryl Sbarra, an attorney with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, will be in attendance to answer questions.

The authority to amend the regulations of the Board of Health rests with the board, and requires no additional approvals. Should it choose to move forward with the changes post-forum, a hearing will be held where the public will once again be able to give its input. However, the health board will not be able to respond to or interact with the public during such a hearing.

Those unable to attend Thursday’s forum can submit a statement via email to moleary@northamptonma.gov or can mail it to Northampton Health Department, 212 Main St., Northampton, MA 01060.

Designated areas

O’Leary said the Board of Health is a policymaking board, and that in her six-year tenure as public health director the city’s tobacco regulations have been amended by it three times, in order to keep up with trends and data.

“We have to amend our regulations quite frequently,” she said.

She also said the possible locations of the designated smoking areas are currently being determined.

“We have a small committee put together trying to identify those areas,” O’Leary said.

She said the committee is considering how the changes might affect workers on their cigarette breaks. O’Leary said the designated areas will be in low-traffic areas away from residences. She said the main locations will probably be in city-owned parking lots.

O’Leary said not many people have seen the proposed changes, but those who have are very supportive of them when the positive impacts are discussed. When asked about these impacts, O’Leary cited a reduction in secondhand smoke, the nuisance factor and litter, as well as changing the social norm.

Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge is a self-described pack-a-month smoker. However, she said she doesn’t like the amount of smoking on Main Street, specifically citing the area near Happy Valley and the Haymarket Cafe.

“It’s just very, very overwhelming,” she said.

She also cited the area near Thornes Marketplace as a problem. While LaBarge said she couldn’t say if she supports the change, she did say, “Probably, there should be something put in place.”

However, she also said she hadn’t observed such an issue in downtown Florence, and that she’s interested in hearing from businesses.

“I’m looking at quality of life here,” she said.

LaBarge will also be attending Thursday’s forum.

Narkewicz is backing the policy, and he said the Board of Health has taken a progressive stance toward the impact of smoking and secondhand smoke, also citing some of its other moves, including raising the purchase age  for tobacco products in the city to 21.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to do outreach,” said Narkewicz, who said he also appreciated that outdoor accommodations were being taken into consideration.

Smokers react

At Northampton’s World War II Club, the proposed changes were not particularly well received.

“I hate that because I work downtown,” said Amanda Freeman.

Freeman, who works as a waitress, said she doesn’t like the idea of having to spend several minutes traveling to a designated smoking area on her “very short” break

“As a smoker, I try to be respectful,” she said, saying that she tries to stay away from people when she smokes.

Mathieu Tebo, another smoker, said he thinks smoking can be regulated in private outdoor spaces, such as Six Flags amusement parks.

“Public, I don’t think that can and should be regulated,” he said.

Freeman also questioned how the policy would be enforced and whether there would be seating in the designated smoking areas.

It wasn’t only smokers who spoke against the policy

“I used to be a smoker,” said Beth Kelly. “I wouldn’t want somebody telling me where I can smoke and where I can’t smoke.”

Brett Felix, another non-smoker, said he was on the fence about the policy, but leaned against it as an encroachment on freedom.

“People know the dangers,” he said.

Justus Conant, Kelly’s partner, is a smoker. However, he said he’s supportive of the change.

“If you have a designated area, you have a designated area,” Conant said. “I mean, they have them at the airport.

“We’re so used to going out to smoke anyways,” he continued.

Conant also said that tobacco is becoming increasingly more uncouth.

“But I love it,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettent.com.