Vote on Boston Tobacco Ban Looming

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Vote on Boston Tobacco Ban Looming

BOSTON -- The future of Churchill’s cigar bar, as well as those of the other 10 cigar and hookah bars here is uncertain, thanks to a proposal by the Boston Public Health Commission, which contains some of the nation’s strictest smoking regulations, banning the sale of cigarettes at drugstores and on college campuses, and shutting down the 10 establishments where smoking is permitted, by 2013, The New York Times reported.

The goal is to discourage young people from buying tobacco products, to keep tobacco out of stores that promote health, and to protect employees exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the report. The city’s Board of Health will vote on the regulations on Nov. 13, and if approved, they will take effect within 60 days, the paper reported.

"Should tobacco be treated as any other consumer good? No," Barbara Ferrer, director of the Board of Health, told the Times. "We don’t sell guns everywhere, we don’t sell alcohol everywhere and we don’t need to be selling tobacco everywhere. They’re all dangerous products, and they all require regulation."

The proposal is opposed by smokers and small business leaders.

"We believe, frankly, it’s discriminatory," Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents small businesses including pharmacies, told the paper. "It’s tying the hands of sellers and consumers alike, and that isn’t what government should be about."

Boston is not alone in the proposed ban. In July, San Francisco passed a regulation banning the sale of cigarettes in drug stores. The proposal was challenged in court, but a judge allowed the ban to begin Oct. 1 despite the pending lawsuit, the report stated.

Boston’s proposal was aimed at a growing number of hookah bars near college campuses, where patrons—many of whom are 18- to 20-year-olds—smoke flavored tobacco out of a water pipe, said Ferrer. The smoking bars were exempt from a 2003 ban on smoking in all city workplaces, including bars and restaurants, according to the report.

"It’s a way to entice nonsmokers to smoke," Ferrer told the paper. "They’re marketed to kids in Boston who can’t go to a regular bar."

But some employees of these establishments told the Times their rights are being threatened.

"It’s an issue of free choice. Cigar lounges aren’t frequented by people who don’t smoke," said Drinnan Thornton, a bartender at Churchill’s cigar bar. "None of us are affected by the dangers of secondhand smoke, because we all enjoy firsthand smoke."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has not taken a public position on the Health Commission’s ban, but said steps should be taken to keep tobacco products away from young people, and the financial well-being of small businesses should be considered, according to the report.

"The mayor is a little concerned about the longstanding businesses," Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Menino, told the paper, adding the mayor was most concerned about hookah bars attracting young customers and also was concerned about small pharmacies.