WHITMAN — As part of the Board of Health’s new Sale of Tobacco Products regulations, now in the process of being finalized, Walgreens is being advised they will no longer be permitted to sell tobacco products in Whitman.
The company was advised by letter on Sept. 20 of the regulations’ paragraph N, which prohibits the sale of tobacco products in healthcare institutions.
Some town officials, including a selectman as well as Town Administrator Frank Lynam, have expressed concern over the impact the paragraph might have on the business climate. Section 9 of paragraph N would also limit the number of tobacco product sales permits.
“I would guess that ties in with the number of licenses,” Lynam said. “By eliminating Walgreens as a distributor of tobacco products, they’ve cut down one of the licenses.”
Lynam said that license would likely not be issued to another store.
Health Board Chairman Eric Joubert said that is not the intent, and stressed the board has held hearings at which local store owners have testified about possible impact to their business.
“The letter essentially says if you’re in the health care industry you shouldn’t be selling cigarettes,” Lynam said. “That’s an interesting concept — that it’s up to us to tell people how to run their business. My only concern is we’re here trying to tell business we want them to come to town, we need their ability to create jobs and generate tax revenue and then we turn around and say, ‘but we don’t want you doing things that we might consider offensive’ and how is that being positive to a business environment?”
“This is not in anyway and attempt to reduce the number of licenses that are out there at the current time,” Joubert said of the regulations set to go into effect Oct. 31, 2016.
According to approved and signed minutes from Aug. 9 and 30, the board has agreed to remove a section restricting the sale and governing the pricing of single cigars was stricken from the regulations.
“The board received concerns from the retailers in the town of Whitman,” Joubert said. “The board allowed the retailers to express their concerns and reevaluated the areas that they felt were unfair or created an undue burden on their business. … After our meeting with the retailers I think everybody felt comfortable with the outcome and we will all continue to work together to do what’s in the best interest of the town of Whitman and tobacco use reduction.”
According to draft minutes from the board’s Sept. 13 meeting, the board is seeking answers to “more questions for [Mass. Association of Boards of Health] MAHB lawyer Cheryl Sbarra” regarding the entire section pertaining to Section 9 (sale of tobacco products in healthcare institutions) before finalizing it or setting a number to permitted licenses.
“We are trying to do our research to find out what’s going to best fit the town and retailers,” Joubert said. “We promise that no one will lose their license that is currently licensed in the town of Whitman. Through attrition the removal of licensure will occur in the event that we decide to proceed with this process.”
Joubert said Monday, via email while away on vacation, that he was not aware of any response from Walgreens, but he said the chain has understood that Walgreens has surrendered their license in other towns nationwide where such regulations have been enacted without issue.
“As far as voluntary surrender of licensure, Duvals was the forerunner years ago (2010 or better), making the decision upon their own to eliminate the sale of a harmful product in a health care sales environment, and have felt no ill effects from their decision,” Joubert said, noting that CVS joined them surrendering their license a year or so back voluntarily. “So, as you can see, the trend has been to eliminate tobacco products in a health care sales environment voluntarily, and the board will continue to seek surrender of licensure as needed.”
Whitman’s regulations also define the products and retailers concerned; sets a minimum age of 21 for purchase; governs sales permits and prohibits sale of blunt wraps or out-of-package sales; prohibits vending machines, non-residential roll-your-own machines or self-service displays; prohibits distribution or redemption of coupons and the sale of tobacco products by educational institutions. Fines are based on a scale, with $100 for first violations, with higher fines and license suspensions for subsequent violations. Four violations — repeated or egregious violations — shall result in a license hearing to determine if a permit will be revoked.
There are 57 municipalities of varying size in Massachusetts now restricting flavored “other tobacco products” and almost as many with minimum pricing for cigars, according to the Mass. Municipal Association.