An unprecedented proposal targeting smoking on college campuses could become law as early as November, after the Boston Public Health Commission voted unanimously Thursday to ban tobacco sales in certain areas.
The proposal, which would also forbid tobacco sales at pharmacies, and possibly hookah bars, will discourage smoking by making tobacco products harder to buy, BPHC Community Initiatives Bureau Director Roger Swartz said.
"This is really to look at protecting the health of our citizens," Swartz said. "One of the ways that is done is by looking at where [tobacco] products can be accessed."
Swartz said the ban focuses on college campuses and pharmacies because both institutions largely support and encourage healthy lifestyles. The regulations, if approved by City Hall this winter, would also improve the colleges' reputations by promoting healthier choices among students, he added.
Regulators also wanted to counter the effects of tobacco advertisements, Swartz said.
"This is really just about sending the statement de-normalizing tobacco use as a way to counter the kind of impact tobacco companies have by marketing," he said.
Store owners disputed the commission's reasoning for approving the ban. On marketing, CVS Corporation spokesman Michael DeAngelis said advertisements for cigarettes and other related products are already prohibited from the company's stores.
"We make [tobacco] products available for the convenience of customers, but do not advertise them or post marketing signs that would encourage sales," DeAngelis said. "A percentage of CVS customers voluntarily choose to use tobacco products, and they are legal for adults to use."
Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel said the regulations, if enacted, would likely affect pharmacies and campus convenience stores more than the citizens the ban intends to protect. Smokers will simply travel farther to buy cigarettes, he said.
"By not allowing cigarettes to be sold at campus stores, I really don't think that it's going to actually stop anyone from smoking," Siegel said. "What I think this law is going to do is simply shift the places where people are buying their cigarettes."
Siegel said the proposal would not accomplish its goal from a public policy point of view.
"Normally, a public health law is justified because it's going to have an impact on people's health," Siegel said. "In this case, I think all it's going to do is hurt business by driving sales to other stores."
Though Siegel said Boston health care and educational institutions should promote good health, he said he does not believe it is the local government's responsibility to enforce these private organizations' own values.
"Regulators feel that somehow it's inconsistent with the mission of an educational or health care institute to be selling cigarettes," Siegel said. "While I agree with that idea, I just don't think that it's really the role of government to regulate whether stores are acting in a way that's consistent with their mission."
Siegel said there are more effective ways to improve public health and deter smoking, like aggressive anti-smoking campaigns to counter tobacco companies' own marketing.
In 1993, Massachusetts launched a $34 million anti-smoking television campaign that lasted almost 10 years before funding cuts forced it to shut down, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site. Though this campaign is now dead, Siegel said a relaunch would serve citizens better than more smoking bans.
"I have a problem with these regulations because it's not clear tome what the purpose actually is," Siegel said. "The most probable purpose of these regulations would be to deter smoking, but I just don't see that happening. People can buy cigarettes anywhere."
Some smokers said the city ordinance would make them smoke less, however.
"It might help people quit, or it might help smokers save money" College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Lauren Rose said. "It will probably prevent some people from smoking. BU's campus is huge, so if students have to trek into places like Allston, they'll probably be less likely to buy them."
Arts and Sciencessophomore Max Nemtsey said the restrictions are intended to promote a university's mission and that they were "selfish." He said the regulations would only encourage smokers to buy cigarettes in bulk from the stores selling them.
"If you want to smoke, then you should have the right to smoke and buy cigarettes wherever you want," Nemtsey said.
"The regulations would probably not affect my smoking habits at all," he added. "I would just go out and buy a carton at a time.