The Bottom of Tobacco Slope?
A town in Massachusetts was looking at becoming the first in the country to ban the sale of tobacco products:
This sleepy central Massachusetts town of 7,700 has become an improbable battleground in America’s tobacco wars. On Wednesday, the Board of Health will hear public comment on a proposed regulation that could make Westminster the first municipality in the United States to ban sales of all tobacco products within town lines.
‘‘To my knowledge, it would be the first in the nation to enact a total ban,’’ said Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association. ‘‘We commend the town for doing it.’’
Town health agent Elizabeth Swedberg said a ban seemed like a sensible solution to a vexing problem.
‘‘The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people,’’ she said, pointing to 69-cent bubblegum-flavored cigars, electronic cigarettes and a new form of dissolvable smokeless tobacco that resembles Tic Tac candies. ‘‘The board was getting frustrated trying to keep up with this.’’
It… didn’t end well:
Emotions flared at the hearing, where about 500 people crowded into an elementary school gym. When one resident loudly pronounced himself “disgusted” that the board would make a proposal that infringed on personal choice, the crowd roared with approval.
After several failed attempts to bring the hearing to order, chairwoman Andrea Crete gaveled the session to an end. As police shadowed Crete out of the building, many in the audience broke out in a verse of “God Bless America.” Opponents also collected signatures on a petition to recall the three elected board members.
“It was going to get out of control,” Crete said later. “We don’t need any riots.”
According to a Selectman, it was voted down unanimously.
And this, apparently, is where the slippery slope ends. Or, at least, this slippery slope. There are still plenty of places that people are allowed to enjoy cigarettes, and they will presumably be targeted until everyone has to commute to Iowa.
Restricting sales is likely to be much more difficult than restricting smoking. The “second hand harm” argument doesn’t really fly for it. That in and of itself doesn’t really matter all that much these days, though. What really matters is that livelihoods depend on this. Not evil tobacco company execs and their minions, but neighborhood convenience stores.
As mentioned in the articles, this is a really big deal. Smokers do a lot to keep these places afloat. Not just by buying cigarettes, but by getting other things when they come in to buy cigarettes. When we bought our house, I made a mental note of where the nearest convenience store was. This was important because… wait, I don’t need to know where to get cigarettes anymore, do I? And with that (or without that), my convenience store food and drink purchasing has fallen dramatically. It’s difficult to over state, really.
So a plan like this was bound to meet with a lot of resistance. Ban tobacco sales, and convenience stores will go out of business. Not all of them, obviously, but some of them.
Which is actually kind of a shame. Because you know what? I almost support this proposal. Almost. I think it’s a bad idea to do it on a township basis. You’d (at least potentially) be destroying businesses in your township as smokers start not only getting their cigarettes (and food and drinks) elsewhere, but also their gas and whatnot. No, you’d need to do it statewide. Except that’s overkill.
But if you want to look at the Next Great Way to reduce smoking, it’s getting them out of convenience stores and into tobacco shops. If you’re trying to quit smoking, convenience stores remain one of the biggest ways to relapse. If you’re a young person that might kinda-sorta be interested, there they are right there. You could quite easily continue to allow smokers to purchase tobacco products while at the same time reducing temptations and creating a safe space for would-be quitters.
The two big problems with this are, of course, the damage that this would do to convenience stores, and slippery slope concerns. This failed, and so the slope is ended, but if they actually got them out of convenience stores, the precedent would indeed be set and the temptation would be great to start regulating tobacco stores into the ground. Which in and of itself could backfire if encourages smokers to buy cigarettes by the carton, which increases consumption among the damned.
So in the end, this was likely a non-starter and will continue to be except at the sorts of places that don’t actually need convenience stores (as such), which makes it less likely to spread like wildfire the way that smoking bans did. I still wish that there were a way to get them out of convenience stores, especially if you would allow those convenience stores to carry ecigarettes (“I can’t find a smoke, maybe I’ll try one of those things. Hey, these aren’t mad. Maybe I should go with these instead”) but the War on Tobacco remains a war, and we have long-since forsaken reasonable policy as the pendulum swung from one extreme to another.
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