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02.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedAtPressTime

TOBACCO SALES ALL BUT STUBBED OUT

IT’S BUTT’S OUT TIME IN BOSTON. In December Boston health regulators banned cigarette sales in drugstores and on college campuses, giving the city some of the most stringent antismoking laws in the nation. The rules, approved unanimously by the Boston Public Health Commission, mean that starting in February, about 75 pharmacies and a handful of campus convenience stores will be prohibited from selling all tobacco products. Starting immediately, smoking will not be permitted on the patios of restaurants and bars with outdoor service. The regulations could also eventually lead to the extinction of cigar bars and other establishments catering to smokers. However, in response to the financial laments of cigar bar owners, the commission did revise the original rules to extend the grace period from five years to a decade before those businesses will be closed. Even then, they could appeal to stay open longer. No new cigar bars or hookah lounges will be allowed to open in the city. The rules emerge a month after state disease trackers reported that a four-year-old statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars appeared to be responsible for a dramatic reduction in heart attack deaths. Still, Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco-control researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health, questioned whether the ban on drugstore and campus sales will achieve its stated goal of reducing cigarette use, particularly among the poor and the young. Instead, the doctor predicted, smokers will go somewhere else to buy their cigarettes. Boston’s measures represent the most aggressive attempt to stem smoking, and they fueled considerable opposition from businesses that complained that the city was trampling on their right to sell a legal product.
CVS and Walgreens both intend to comply with the regulations although Walgreens did voice concern for the loss of additional sales generated by people who come in for cigarettes and buy extra items. The strongest opposition to the ban came from the owners and patrons of the 11 cigar bars and hookah lounges that either already operate in Boston or received permits to open prior to the new regulations. They argued that their product is distinct from cigarettes and that they had made business decisions based on a 2OO3 city regulation that banned smoking in restaurants and taverns but allowed cigar bars to remain in operation. The financial argument resonated with members of the Public Health Commission, especially, they said, given the current economic crisis. “We have to listen to people who made a significant financial investment in the city,” said John Cradock, CEO of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. “Even though there will continue to be cigar bars in Boston, it’s a very small number. There won’t be any more. I think that’s the best we could do, frankly.” The cigar bars flooded the Public Health Commission with postcards of opposition, and a contingent of owners met with Mayor Menino and Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Public Health Commission. But Ferrer said the mayor had applied no pressure to extend the grace period for the cigar bars. In separate interviews, commission members said they had not been contacted by the mayor or his aides.
Brandon Salomon, an owner of Cigar Masters in the Back Bay, pointed to a provision that allows his business and others to appeal for a second 1O-year grace period after a decade as evidence that the city does not want to shut him down. “We have an understanding that nobody wants to put anyone out of business,” Salomon said.

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