Westminster, Mass., goes bonkers over proposed ban on tobacco sales

New York Times photo
Westminster, Mass. New York Times photo

OK, I fully expected this hearing to be heated, but even this blew me away.

The town of Westminster, Massachusetts, has proposed banning all tobacco sales within town limits. It’s understandably a controversial idea.

Well, the hearing got so whack, it had to be stopped 20 minutes after it started. Nearly 500 people showed up (in a town of 7,000), some of them apparently from out of town, to the public hearing. It became so out-of-control that the town’s health board made no decision (and likely won’t at this point).

Of course, the issues went way beyond just smokers vs. nonsmokers, as people brought up freedom of choice and personal liberties and the town’s proposal as a government intrusion on individual. (Wow, I’ve actually heard a lot of the same arguments about smoking bans. A lot of alleged nonsmoking Libertarians gets riled up by smoking bans.

It was heated enough, the New York Times wrote about the little town’s brouhaha.

From the Times:

“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, as he stood outside the store last week. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control,” he said.

OK, I can dig that to a degree, but this next quote from the Times story is just plain silly.

As Wayne and Deborah Hancock grabbed a shopping cart, they joined in. All quickly agreed that the next freedoms at risk would be guns and religion, prompting Mrs. Hancock, 52, a homemaker, to say that she was afraid to wear her cross.

“I’m thinking, ‘Am I going to be beheaded?’ ” she said, not entirely joking.

A few brief comments actually got in during the hearing:

Wayne R. Walker, a town selectman, said that the selectmen had voted unanimously to oppose the ban. “I detest smoking and tobacco in all its forms,” he told the health board, but such a “unilateral and radical approach” as banning all sales would “create a significant economic hardship.”

A resident named Kevin West said that smoking was “one of the most disgusting habits anybody could possibly do,” but added: “I find this proposal to be even more of a disgusting thing.” The shouts after his statement prompted Ms. Crete, who had issued several warnings, to declare the hearing over.

Apparently, as the board adjourned the meeting, the crowd began singing “God Bless America,” and board members had to be escorted out with police protection.

Oh, man, I’ve sat through too many of those kind of ginned-up public meetings. Really, at this point, the town should just drop it because it’s inviting  a mess of litigation in my opinion and ultimately probably won’t effectively stop anyone from smoking if they really want to. But, officially, the matter was simply postponed.