And then they came for my cigarettes…

Westminster, Massachusetts, a little rural town deep in the heart of the ancestral homeland of NewsCut, became a national battleground in smokers’ “rights” this week when it was poised to become the first community in the country to ban the sale of tobacco products.

It’s not every day that a small town’s board of health has to be escorted out of a meeting by police, but that’s how it went.

“It was going to get out of control. We don’t need any riots,” Board of Health Chairwoman Andrea Crete told the Boston Globe.

“This is about freedom; it’s my body and it’s my choice to smoke,” said Nate Johnson, 32, a Westminster farmer and auto body worker. He was puffing on a cigarette at a rally before the hearing where opponents held signs saying “It’s not about tobacco — it’s about control” and “Smoke ’em if you got them.”

Emotions flared at the hearing, where about 500 people crowded into an elementary school gym. When one resident loudly pronounced himself “disgusted” that the board would make a proposal that infringed on personal choice, the crowd roared with approval.

After several failed attempts to bring the hearing to order, chairwoman Andrea Crete gaveled the session to an end. As police shadowed Crete out of the building, many in the audience broke out in a verse of “God Bless America.” Opponents also collected signatures on a petition to recall the three elected board members.

After the members of the Board scurried for safety, all that was left was to celebrate democracy.

“We want people to think twice before buying a cigarette,” resident David Seppelin told the Fitchburg Sentinel after the meeting. “Why do we have to have cigarettes, have tobacco, in town? People can move away if they don’t like it.”

  • Dave

    “Smoke em if you got em”

    The rallying cry of the soon-to-be-diagnosed. Then again, the guy is a Patriots fan. What do you want.

    • If you are a Patriot fan, you want another Super Bowl title. You wouldn’t understand. :*)

      • Robert Moffitt

        Ouch!

  • Jeff C.

    Nobody is saying that you can’t smoke ’em if you got ’em. They are saying you can’t buy ’em in Westminster. It is just like a dry town were you can’t buy alcohol but you can still drink it in your home. You can’t buy your smokes in Westminister but you CAN smoke ’em if you got ’em. I’m sure most adult smokers will still be able to buy their smokes elsewhere but I bet kids will indeed have a harder time getting them, and that seems to be a big part of the ban. I’m OK with it.

    • BReynolds33

      Try it with some other things.

      Real: They’re not saying you can’t celebrate Halloween, they’re just saying you can’t do it at school.

      Made-up, but related: They’re not saying you can’t buy cheese, they’re just saying you can’t buy cheese in Westminster.

      Real: They’re not saying you can’t buy a car, they’re just saying you can’t buy a car on Sunday.

      In North Dakota: They’re not saying you can’t shop on Sunday, you just can’t shop before noon.

      Which product or service would they need to ban the sale of in your town before you sat up and said, “Wait… what?” Now, as Bob’s title suggests, it becomes a slippery slope. Do you stand up and defend the right to buy something you wouldn’t buy so that when someone tries to ban something you do want to buy, or do you sit down and say “I’m OK with it,” because you don’t care about the product?

      • Dave

        Is anyone suggesting banning the sale of cheese? If not, then you’re engaging in the slippery slope fallacy.

        • Robert Moffitt

          Counting the seconds until someone mentions obesity, fatty foods or outdoor air pollution. Red herrings, all. The issue is tobacco sales in one little town. That’s all, folks.

          • Dave

            “let’s just ban cars!”

          • CHS

            Red Herrings? How about a department of health banning the sales of soft drinks, or at least ones that are ‘too big for your own good.’ There was one little town that tried that too, hasn’t worked out well. The issue isn’t tobacco sales in one small town, the issue is a governmental agency telling someone what they can and can’t do to their own bodies and lives. No one is suggesting the banning of cheese sales, but that doesn’t mean the slippery slope isn’t real.

  • Gary F

    Keep smoking them dude, there are politicians addicted to the tax revenue and they have a spending habit and need a fix.

    • Robert Moffitt

      I don’t care what they spend the tax income on. If the price goes up, youth smoking goes down. And it has: http://www.albertleatribune.com/2014/11/cigarette-use-among-high-school-students-drops/

      • BReynolds33

        Nah, they just switch to e-cigs.

        • Robert Moffitt

          We’re working on that, too. But yeah, it’s a concern.

          • Dave

            I was at Smashburger a while ago, and two guys were doing the vaping thing. I glanced over at him because at first I thought he was smoking, and OMG, if looks could kill.

            My two biggest disappointments with Mark Dayton involve smoking something.

  • Robert Moffitt

    I’ve heard this sort of thing before. I’ve seen old veterans brought into city and county meetings to defend smoking in service clubs (once, they tried to bring in an American flag, but was told to take it outside). I have heard people wrap tobacco in the Bill of Rights and claim they were ‘defenders of freedom.”
    I call BS on this.
    If Westminster wants to give tobacco the boot from their little town, they have the right to do so, as Jeff C. points out.

    • BReynolds33

      You act like the Vets were dragged in there kicking and screaming. And not being allowed to bring an American flag into a public building is stupid.

      A city / town does not have “the right” to deny liberty to its citizens. To believe they do is downright criminal.

      • Robert Moffitt

        Tobacco is not “liberty.” The vets were sold a line from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and other groups that pushed the fear that all bars and clubs would go dark w/o the smoke.

  • Robert Moffitt

    “It’s not about tobacco — it’s about control…”
    (yawn) Whatever you say, Mr. Johnson.

    • BReynolds33

      “We want people to think twice before buying a cigarette,” resident David Seppelin.

      If that isn’t flat out saying they want to control the way you think, I don’t know what is.

      • Robert Moffitt

        That’s Mr. Seppelin’s personal opinion. We all got ’em. It’s a free country, after all. 😉

  • John Peschken

    As a former smoker and lung cancer patient, I am in no way defending smoking.

    However, I am also disturbed by the increasing tendency of government to try to tell us how to run every little aspect of our lives. It shows up in Air Force pledges to “so help me God”, Texas’ restrictions on women’s right to choose, all very moralistic and upright. It’s rarely a direct assault on a behavior, but little chip by little chip as in this instance. It’s hard to see who is helped by this ordinance, only people who are inconvenienced and annoyed.

    • Robert Moffitt

      I share your concerns on many of these. I respectfully suggest that each of these be addressed as the separate issues they are, and not some giant governmental boogieman out to run out lives. I used to work for the federal government — it’s not bright enough to handle the job it has now, much less micromanage our lives.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Full disclosure: I’m the communications director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. I was closely involved in the debates on the local and statewide level on smoking. I also helped to form a group of fellow veterans who wanted smoke free service clubs in Minnesota. Now we have them.

  • Try to remember that Massachusetts is the home of blue laws and it also was founded by Puritans. It’s in the historical culture to dictate “morality” and “behavior.”

    • Robert Moffitt

      Massachusetts is also the home of Louis CK, Penn Jillette and Aerosmith. That should offer some sort of balance for the Puritans.

      • Louis was born in Washington., moved to mexico and his mother moved him to Mass. at 10. Penn Jillette, I had no idea, was born in Greenfield, which is in western mass or — as it is more commonly known — South Vermont or East New York.

        Aerosmith? Now we’re talking.

  • Robert Moffitt

    We talked about smoking bans on NewsCut three years ago. That was a humdinger.

    http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2011/01/is_the_smoking_ban_next/#comments

    • It’s funny how every period in the blog’s history has this small core of commenters who eventually move on, replaced by another small core of commenters.

      It’s like a bird migration of some sort.

      And then you have your native year-’round species.

      • Jack

        “It’s funny how every period in the blog’s history has this small core of commenters who eventually move on,…”
        Ha, move on or get evicted from writing? Perspective here in regard to Nominal Bob.

        • The number of people banned over 7 years I’d fewer than 10. Sure we have our share of spitball throwers but they fade away through their own irrelevance.

          • Jack

            From their perspective I am certain they were NOT, not relevant.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    FINALLY some level of government being honest about tobacco. I doubt this one relies on the tax revenue it brings, however. But it’s a start.