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Massachusetts Town Could Be First in the U.S. to Ban All Tobacco Sales

A small town in Massachusetts has become the latest battleground against Big Tobacco. Residents of Westminster will get the chance Wednesday night to debate a health board proposal to ban the sale of all tobacco and nicotine products — potentially making it the first community in the country to snuff out everything from e-cigarettes to flavored cigars. But while public health groups are lauding the proposal, smokers, their advocates and shopkeepers alike are fuming.

"What I find terrifying is government overstepping,” resident and nonsmoker Jennifer Shenk said during a town government meeting Monday, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Westminster’s Board of Health isn’t expected to vote on the issue until after Dec. 1 — the last day for residents to submit public comments.

Shopkeeper Brian Vincent, whose country store on Main Street sells $100,000 worth of tobacco products a year, has collected at least 900 signatures to fight the ban. Vincent said smokers will simply make their purchases in other towns, and probably buy their gas and groceries there as well. “Having other adults decide what legal item we’re not allowed to consume just makes you wonder: If this passes, what could be next? Sugar? Bacon?” he said.

Town health agent Elizabeth Swedberg has the support of nonsmokers like Vicki Tobin, who said she wants to keep cigarettes out of sight — and mind — of her three young boys. “I just think it’s a great step in a positive way to promote a healthy town, a healthy lifestyle,” Tobin told The Associated Press. While no other communities ban the sale of tobacco products outright, according to the American Lung Association, some retailers are reexamining their policies. In September, CVS became the first major U.S. drugstore to pull all tobacco products from its 7,700 stores.

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— Erik Ortiz, with The Associated Press