Even non-smokers are fighting for the right to light up in a Massachusetts town

In Westminster, Mass. things have heated up in the debate about whether or not tobacco products should be outlawed entirely – which would make it the first town to make such a drastic effort. A proposal by the local Board of Health is trying to forbid anyone from buying cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. […]

In Westminster, Mass. things have heated up in the debate about whether or not tobacco products should be outlawed entirely – which would make it the first town to make such a drastic effort.

A proposal by the local Board of Health is trying to forbid anyone from buying cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. The town (only 17% of which are smokers) are not cool with it – they see it as an invasion of individual liberties – and it has become a pretty intense protest.

“They’re just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little,” said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in an auto body shop in the town. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control.”

Nearly 500 people packed a hearing at a local elementary school on Wednesday night held by the three members of the Board of Health. Passions ran high, and the hearing became so unruly that the board chairwoman could not maintain order; she shut down the hearing 20 minutes after it began. The crowd started singing “God Bless America” in protest as the board members left under police protection. Angry residents circulated petitions demanding a recall election for the board members.

It’s not just about individual liberties, though. One main reason the residents are upset is that it would disrupt sales for local businesses. Joe Serio, the owner and pharmacist at the Westminster Pharmacy said tobacco sales are 2 percent of revenues for the store. But the mission from the Board of Health is clear – they do not want the dangerous products to be available to young people especially.

“The Board of Health permitting these establishments to sell these dangerous products that, when used as directed, kill 50 percent of its users, ethically goes against our public health mission,”  Andrea Crete, chairwoman of the Board of Health, said.

This issue is controversial because it not only involves personal freedom of choice or the availability for tobacco products to be sold to young people, it also includes the dangers of secondhand smoke. With e-cigarettes becoming more popular and a growing condemnation of the tobacco industry, events like this aren’t surprising. But where the line is drawn isn’t yet clear.