When Board of Health officials in Westminster proposed becoming the first municipality in the country to completely do away with the freedom to buy and sell tobacco products, they were met with a firestorm of criticism. Hundreds of people showed up at a public hearing earlier this month and many opponents of the ban refused to stop shouting and clapping, which disrupted the meeting and led to its chairwoman ending the meeting early. The board previously said they would vote on the proposal on December 1, but at a meeting last night, two board members decided to nix the ban early. According to the Telegram & Gazette:
The tobacco sales ban was not on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting, but Health Board member Edward Simoncini brought it up under "board members' concerns." Mr. Simoncini said that it was apparent to him after attending a meeting of the town Economic Development Committee, which voted against the proposal, and a selectmen's meeting where there was overwhelming opposition, and the public hearing a week ago attended by more than 400 opponents of the ban, that the regulation should not be approved.
"I have received the input I was looking for," Mr. Simoncini said. "The town was not in favor of the proposal, therefore I am not in favor of the proposal."
Those attending Wednesday's meeting were also warned by Chairman Andrea Crete they would be removed if there was an outburst or disrespect shown to board members. About 20 people attended and none caused any disruption.
Mr. Simoncini made the motion to withdraw the prosal, and board member Peter Munro seconded it. Both voted to pull it back. Ms. Crete voted against withdrawing it.
The proposal to ban tobacco product has been so unpopular that opponents have initiated a process to recall two of the board members:
Mr. Simoncini and Mr. Munro are the two board members facing recall. Mr. Simoncini said he had been asked to run for the position when no one ran, but he said if someone wants to serve in his place, the person is welcome to it.
Petitions for the recall effort were issued Wednesday by Town Clerk Denise MacAloney. Supporters of the recall were circulating the petitions at the Board of Health meeting. They have 20 days to collect 800 signatures. If the signatures are collected, selectmen have five days to inform those involved that they are facing recall. The people facing recall would then have five days to decide whether to resign. If they do not resign, a recall election would be scheduled.
After the public hearing on the ban was disrupted earlier this month, the board said they would accept written comments on the proposal. The Bay State Examiner has sent the board a public records request for all the comments that have been submitted.