Boston Gets Tough on Tobacco Products: Bans Sales in Colleges and Pharmacies

Boston in an attempt to improve the health of city residents is banning sale of tobacco products in colleges and pharmacies. The new rules were approved by the Boston Public Health Commission's Board of Health in December and this makes Boston the second city to ban such sales in pharmacies after San Francisco.

Cynthia Hallet, executive director of Berkeley-based Americans for Non-Smokers Rights foundation said, “We’re bound to see other cities follow suit. You shouldn’t be able to buy tobacco products from your health service provider.”

Under the new measure colleges and pharmacies will no longer be allowed to sell cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco and within a decade all smoking bars will be forced to close operations. There are 11 cigar bars and hookah lounges which are already operating in the city and these can stay open for 10 more years but no new licenses will be issued. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the commission’s executive director told CBS News, “In 10 years, all smoking bars in Boston should be gone.”

Health officials feel the half a dozen hookah bars in the city are especially a cause for concern as they cater to college students and young adults. “Once you get started, quitting is very hard,” Hallet says. “We still have a half a million deaths a year in the country every year that are attributable to the use of tobacco.”

Pharmacies are not expected to take a financial hit with the new measure coming into place as cigarettes account for a mere one to three percent of sales. CVS and Walgreens have the largest number of pharmacies in Boston and both the chains have said they will comply with the new rules.

Cigar bar owners scoffed at the notion of second hand smoke affecting the workers. George Gilio, the general manager of Cigar Masters in Boston said, “There is second-hand smoke, but we have state of the art humidifiers and smoke eaters.”

Barry Macdonald, whose family took over Churcill's Lounge in the early 1970s said, “All the people that come to work for me come to work for me because they embrace the lifestyle. They enjoy this business. They’re all smokers. My position is - it’s legal, if you’re an adult, you can make a rational decision about it.”

Customers and regulars at the bars also had opinions against the new measure. “We’re adults. We have the right to choose. I choose to come into this place,” says Alan Dines, a regular at Cigar Masters. “These are legal products. These are not banned products, and they’re trying to regulate items that are not banned."

Although the original draft of the new regulation was to have withdrawn the cigar bar licenses within five years, the fear of the recession crisis becoming even worse made them double the period. “I think it will hurt a very fragile economy,” says Robert Shick, another Cigar Masters patron.

According to Americans for Non Smokers' Rights smoking bans are coming into force all over the country with 27 states already banning smoking in restaurants, and 22 in the workplace while hundreds of colleges have restricted smoking in housing and on campus. “Smoke-free laws protect people from exposure to a known carcinogen, and this is a way to protect the public health,” said Hallet.

Bar owners argue about their future. “This is my livelihood. This is what I do. You know, I have two children, a wife, a mortgage, like a lot of other people," Macdonald says. "It wouldn’t be good.” (Harkiran contributed to this report)