It may be more difficult for smokers in Northborough to light one up in the near future, as the Board of Health is considering changes to tobacco laws in town.
A public meeting will likely be held in June, according to Health Agent Jamie Terry, to discuss revamped policies on smoking on municipal properties in Northborough. The policy, which is still being fine-tuned by the board, will also address penalties and regulations for businesses that sell tobacco.
The policy, as it is written in draft form now, proposes to ban smoking in public areas that are municipally owned, such as the Senior Center, Fire Department, Police Department, the library, sports fields and parks.
Terry says that 88 percent of Northborough residents are non-smokers, and the policy would be to protect those people.
"We want smoking prohibited in areas where the 88 percent could be negatively impacted," said Terry. "And this is the way we feel it protects those populations."
Schools wouldn't be affected by the change in policy, because smoking is already prohibited on school properties. Originally, Terry said, the board discussed adding a private club enactment. The board "may still move forward with that," but the only private club in town is the American Legion, which has already voted to go smoke-free.
"We're not trying to punish smokers," said Terry. "We are just trying to protect the 88 percent. We're not interested in telling an adult what they can and cannot do. We are trying to protect the public that is going to be in public and subjected to the smoke."
Many years ago, added Terry, before a majority of people who now work at the Town Hall were even hired, the municipal union voted to go smoke-free. That means, "if you're a town employee, you can't be a smoker." Northborough is the only New England town that has this rule.
"It meant you can't smoke in your life, not just at your work," said Terry. "The unions agreed to it and it elminated smoking among town employees."
The idea of banning tobacco sales in pharmacies came up in discussion, but the board decided not to pursue that at this time. The board is, however, debating on penalties for those stores who are caught selling to minors.
As it is now, a store that sells to a minor now has a 12-month probation period. If a "second strike" occurs within that 12 months, the store gets a penalty of no tobacco sales for seven days and a $200 fine. On a third offense, the business loses its tobacco license.
"We're proposing to go from a 12-month to a 24-month period of probation," said Terry.
Stores are overseen in Northborough by teh Worcester Regional Tobacco Coalition, which conducts spot checks at local businesses, and reports offenses to Terry if they occur.
At Tuesday's board meeting, member Glenn French voiced opposition to the 24-month probation period, suggesting that it is too strict of a penalty for a first offense. There is a rapid turnover of new employees, sometimes, he says, and the penalty would punish the owner unnecessarily.
Terry says she hopes the tobacco laws are fine-tuned in time to have a public meeting in June, and would be enacted July 1 of this year.