HAVERHILL — Drive by any downtown restaurant or bar on a busy night, and you'll see a group of customers near the entrance smoking.
Stop into a pharmacy to pick up some cold medicine and you might see someone buying a pack of cigarettes.
Go to an event in a private club and people sitting at the next table might be lighting up.
Those scenarios would end if the city's Health Board adopts new public rules proposed for Haverhill. The board is considering regulations aimed at protecting the public from second-hand cigarette smoke by limiting where people can light up.
Health Board member Peter Carbone said the new regulations are a work in progress and he expects changes once the board begins to gather public input and holds public hearings. He said the board announced its plans to stiffen smoking rules at its March meeting and will discuss a draft of the proposed new regulations May 8.
"Health costs are rising. Smoking is a proven health hazard, as is second-hand smoking, so to protect the general health of the public we want to stiffen these regulations," Carbone said. "We used (the town of) Athol's bylaws as our model. That town's laws were challenged but were upheld by the court."
Proposal targets young people, public areas
Under Haverhill's proposed regulations, pharmacies would no longer be able to sell tobacco products. This would impact eight businesses in the city: Two Rite Aids, two Walgreens and four CVS stores.
"Pharmacies are health stores," Carbone said.
Smoking would also be banned near the entrances to public buildings, including bars, taverns, and sit-down and fast-food restaurants. Smoking would be prohibited near the entryway, open window, staffed drive-up or drive-through window, and the smoke-free area must be large enough so that second-hand smoke does not enter the building or an outdoor deck, or affect the air quality for patrons or employees, Carbone said.
The board also wants to make it harder for young people to buy tobacco products.
Stores would not be allowed to sell single cigars priced at less than $2.50 each, could not sell electronic cigarettes to minors, and would be required to post additional warning signs including information about smoking cessation programs. The idea is to make it more expensive for minors to buy these products in hopes they will not become lifelong smokers. Blunt wraps, a type of tobacco wrapper that can be filled with an herb and then smoked, could no longer be sold in the city, according to the proposal.
The rules would also apply to electronic cigarettes, a product that accounts for increasing sales at Bay State Smoke Shop, 200 Main St. Shop owner Ron Arigo said, in his experience, minors are not interested in electronic cigarettes. He said it is "not their thing" and that in the event a minor does inquire about them, he points to a warning sign on his wall indicating minors cannot buy tobacco products.
"Young kids aren't looking for these. It's mostly the 50 and over crowd," Arigo said. "I've had lifelong smokers tell me they tried everything to quit and nothing worked until they tried these."
Restaurant owner says eateries will suffer
Smoking has been banned in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other enclosed public places in Massachusetts since 2004. In February 2009, Boston enacted a ban on smoking on outside patios of restaurants and bars, and also banned pharmacies from selling tobacco products. Boston also banned smoking in hotel rooms.
Carbone said that when the state was looking to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, opponents argued that it would keep customers away and would be bad for business.
"There was a hue and cry, and now restaurants are busier than ever and new ones are opening," Carbone said.
John Fahimian, who owns the Tap Restaurant on Washington Street, disagrees and said Haverhill's restaurants and bars never really recovered.
Fahimian said communities like Boston have been able to survive because their restaurants and bars are only one part of their economy.
"In Boston, there is a lot more going on, including theaters and retail and all sorts of other things," Fahimian said. "We strongly depend on this one group of business to keep Haverhill's downtown going."
Fahimian said Haverhill's downtown will likely suffer another setback if patrons can't smoke outside.
"There is a whole culture that goes out to eat, drink and smoke, and if you tell them not to go out anymore, they won't come downtown," he said. "They are what make the downtown and define the downtown. To put a ban on one class of people somewhat kills that concept of having an entertainment area. But, I understand the thought behind it."
Dozens of communities have similar rules
Carbone said 35 other Massachusetts cities and towns have already adopted variations of what Haverhill's Health Board is proposing, while other communities are considering new smoking regulations.
At its March 29 meeting, North Andover's Board of Health discussed enacting new rules that would ban pharmacies from selling tobacco products.
Dr. Louis Fazen, a pediatrician who heads the Massachusetts Medical Society's Committee on Public Health, told the board that 90 percent of smokers start the habit when they are younger than 18, that one-third won't be able to quit and that 500,000 deaths each year can be directly attributed to tobacco.
Fazen, who is chairman of the Southbridge Board of Health, said 25 communities in Massachusetts, including Springfield, have already voted to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies.
North Andover Health Board member Joseph McCarthy pointed out that smokers will buy their cigarettes someplace else.
Dr. Thomas Trowbridge, chairman of North Andover's Health Board, said stopping pharmacies from selling tobacco products is a small step in the right direction.
"If we can stop one kid from smoking, we will have accomplished our goal," Trowbridge said.
Clubs say rules unfair to members
Haverhill's proposal would also ban smoking in private clubs, including veteran organizations, ending what Carbone said has been a battle between smokers and non-smokers.
Currently, private clubs can obtain a variance in order to allow smoking. There would be no variance under the new proposal.
"From what I've heard, many members of private clubs are relieved. ... It would take the decision out of a club's hands," Carbone said. "Many of these club members vote to ban smoking, then lose out to the members who smoke and who vote to continue smoking."
At the Sportsmen's Club, 30 Emerson St., having a cigarette and a drink is what many members go there for. Proprietor Liz Pierce worries that a ban on smoking inside her club will keep people away.
"That's why many people join,'' Pierce said. "Many of them are smokers. We have nonsmokers who enjoy coming here and it has not been an issue for them."
Pierce says a worst-case scenario for the Sportsmen's Club would be a loss of its members.
"How could they justify membership and not be able to come in and have a drink and smoke?" she said.
Sending her members outside to smoke would pose other problems, she said.
"We have apartments next door and upstairs, and I've always tried to be courteous of my neighbors," Pierce said. "Some people don't like to walk by when there are crowds outside smoking. Having to go outside to smoke is a concern for me in regards to my neighbors."
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