Saturday, July 20, 2024

012913 tobaccoThe move to limit sugary sodas in Cambridge took a step forward Monday, joined by a move to limit access to tobacco.

While the sugared drink law is modeled after one in New York, the effort to end tobacco sales in pharmacies follows Boston and 52 other Massachusetts cities and towns, said D.J. Wilson, tobacco control director and public health liaison at the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Those communities include Somerville, Watertown, Brookline, Newton, Salem, Worcester, Lowell and Springfield.

Cambridge has a dozen pharmacies, and three-quarters of those – only those owned by chains – sell tobacco products, according to state Department of Public Health data cited by Wilson. Those chains all have branches in communities where the ban is in place, he said, and none have sued.

“Compliance has been very good. No tickets have needed to be issued. We have seen no data provided by pharmacies, chain or independent, saying that they’ve lost any money, and [in Boston] we’ve seen no one coming in for replacement permits,” said Wilson, who was asked to come to the meeting by councillor and policy order sponsor Leland Cheung. “So there has been a decrease in tobacco sales permits in Boston as well as most of the other 52 cities and towns.”

Boston’s ban was put in place in February 2009, Wilson said, because lawmakers there felt “no entity with a license to give medical advice should sell tobacco.”

Andrew Seidenberg, now at the Boston Medical Center after five years studying tobacco at the Harvard School of Public Health, also spoke during public comment to urge adoption of the law. Councillors voted unanimously and without comment to ask City Manager Robert W. Healy to confer with the city’s Public Health Department and report back “on the status of any similar regulation under consideration.”

Mayor Henrietta Davis introduced the New York-style bid to block restaurants from offering certain sizes of sugared drinks in June, and the local law is proceeding with an eye on what’s happening there. Along with questions about public health costs versus civil liberties and the law’s effect on small businesses, Cheung and councillor Ken Reeves – at the Jan. 9 committee meeting being reported and Monday – have asked about the progress of the soda law and 24 related health initiatives in New York.

“A number of those of initiatives have already been accomplished,” Davis said. “The soda initiative I think will be implemented in March. There are some suits, needless to say.”

That was of interest to Reeves, who said he was about equally interested in public health and civil liberties, but found a restaurateur’s complaint about having to buy new glasses to hold smaller soda sizes unconvincing. Councillor David Maher wanted to be sure businesses were being included in the conversation.

Marjorie Decker, who ran the Community Health committee meeting, assured him businesses were included – and giving testimony suggesting no lawsuits were brewing.

“I’ve had quite a few restaurant owners and business owners who would be impacted by this who said that don’t feel this would impact their business at all, a few who said they think it’s great for other reasons and one who told me this would affect their business – and one who said it would not impact his business but it’s a personal right, that he just doesn’t like more regulation,” Decker said.

Denise Jillson, head of the Harvard Square Business Association, wasn’t taking any chances. She later issues a statement:

People here in Cambridge feel strongly about choice; it’s what makes our community thrive. Just in Harvard Square, we receive over 8 million visitors annually. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the diversity of our restaurants and eateries, and they can decide for themselves what to eat and drink. We have heard from many small businesses who are deeply concerned about the proposed ban. Over 75% of our businesses are locally owned independent; they are critical to our job base and the fabric of our community.

There would be another opportunity for restaurant owners at her next meeting, Decker said in the committee report.