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.”