Our Opinion: No need to tamper with successful tobacco rules

The adage about the inadvisability of fixing something that isn't broken applies to the Tri-Town Health Department's responsibilities in Pittsfield. It has done a stalwart job overseeing Pittsfield's tobacco regulations and there is no reason for that to change.

The Pittsfield Board of Health, which had been petitioned to bring this process under the city's authority, wisely decided last week to keep it within the purview of the Tri-Town board (Eagle, June 10.) The manager of a local store that sells tobacco, who asked the board not to reveal the name of the store because he was acting as a private individual, filed the petition and also requested that clerks be allowed lifetime certifications if they passed three consecutive times and did not have any violations for selling to minors.

In 2008, Pittsfield adopted a regulation requiring clerks to be certified every three years, at which time they are tested on regulations and educated about current laws related to tobacco, as well as strategic changes within the industry. This refresher course assures that clerks will not be able to claim ignorance of the laws if there are violations. They will also be made aware of new strategies used by the tobacco industry to draw young customers. Electronic cigarettes, flavored nicotine liquids and packaging to make cigarettes look like candy are among the strategies employed. The certification test, which is conducted on line, takes about 45 minutes, costs $25 per person, and is not prohibitively costly or time-consuming. As the tests benefit the stores by reducing the likelihood of violations and penalties, they will ideally pay the cost.

Tri-Town Health Executive Director James J. Wilusz told the Board of Health that illegal tobacco sales in Pittsfield have been reduced by almost 90 percent since the certification program began, and he attributes the regular training of retailers as a key componen. The tobacco industry is relentless in its efforts to lure young people into the smoking habit to replace smokers who have died or quit. Local and state health organizations must be equally relentless in upholding tobacco laws, in particular those designed to create new smoking addicts.

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other ailments, and because the high cost of treating those diseases is shared by everyone in the form of increased health care costs, the fight against smoking is everybody's business. The state Department of Public Health says that smoking-related illnesses cost the commonwealth an estimated $4.2 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

The Tri-Town Board of Health has helped a number of Berkshire communities enforce tobacco laws and educate their residents about the dangers of smoking and the variety of programs available to enable them to quit smoking. Pittsfield can certainly provide proof.


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