Smokers and nonsmokers alike in Westminster, Mass., came together to push back against a move by the town’s board of health to ban the sale of all tobacco and nicotine products within the city limits.
This community of about 7,700 residents in north-central Massachusetts took on the Nanny State and won.
“This really wasn’t just about selling tobacco. This was about a board that said, ‘We’re going to do what’s right for you.’ That’s what really fired everyone up,” said Joe Serio, owner of Westminster Pharmacy, located in the town’s center.
The pharmacy is one of eight retailers in Westminster that sells tobacco products.
Dozens of media outlets descended on the small town in recent days, as Westminster looked poised to become the first community in the country to prohibit the sale of tobacco and e-cigarette products.
The health board felt it had a moral obligation to restrict young people’s access to tobacco. But at a public hearing a week ago, 500 people showed up, almost all of them to protest the proposed ban. The hearing became so raucous that the board called it off just 20 minutes after it began.
Community members waved flags and joined in an impromptu version of God Bless America after the board moved to shut down the meeting.
“It just kind of sent tingles through me just watching this,” said Jeff Steinbock, a board member of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets and owner of a Milwaukee tobacco store.
On Wednesday, the Westminster board voted 2-1 to withdraw the proposal, noting the clear will of the townspeople. Board of Health chairwoman Andrea Crete voted against rescinding the measure.
A majority of the resistance movement was nonsmokers, people who have supported restrictions on smoking in public places but who thought retailers had the right to sell a legal product.
“What really fired them up was that the Board of Health was saying we will take your public input but we will make the decision,” Serio said. “The term that came up frequently was ‘Nanny State.’”