WESTMINSTER, Mass. — Massachusetts state lawmakers are working on a number of bills in response to the Westminster Board of Health’s unsuccessful attempt to ban tobacco sales last year. Though the proposal was ultimately stopped in a 2-1 vote, legislatures are looking to prevent other cities and municipalities from embarking on the same path.
The Lowell Sun reports a recent Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health hearing brought to light one such bill. Co-sponsored by Rep. Paul K. Frost and Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Bill H 1951 would prohibit local boards of health from banning the sale of tobacco products by retailers that are currently allowed to sell them.
“This is coming from when the Westminster Board of Health had proposed a ban on tobacco products last year,” said Frost spokesperson Lauren Mullins. “(Westminster’s) public forum on it was hosted for people to air their concerns and that got a little out of hand.”
Mullins added that a main concern of Frost’s was the slippery slope the banning of a legal substance could lead to. As such, Frost co-authored a similar bill with Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik that would prevent boards of health from banning the sale not just of tobacco, but any legal consumer products.
“We recognize that cities and towns have rights to make their own choices, but there needs to be some uniformity to that,” said Zlotnik. “We’re just trying to make sure that things like this are kept in check.”
The Westminster Board of Health was able to propose a tobacco ban based on an aspect of the Massachusetts General Laws that grants such boards authority to “make reasonable health regulations.”
“I think at the very least there needs to be more of a process for something of that kind of magnitude to become law,” said Zlotnik.
The two bills sponsored by Frost, Zlotnik and Ferguson are currently under review and sources from Frost’s office said it could take a year before either bill could become state law.
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