Board of Health Did the Right Thing

When we were reading the article in last week’s Sun-Transcript regarding the decision by the Board of Health to raise the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21, we were hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia when we read that Brown’s Pharmacy will be affected by the board’s decision.

Many years ago (more than we care to think about) the Sun-Transcript office was located next door to Brown’s in the Wadsworth Building. Our grandmother, Zita L. Quigley, was the business manager of the newspaper at the time and every Thursday, after the paper had come out, she would send one of us next door to Brown’s to pick up a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes for her from either Carl Ravich or Nelson Dalrymple, the pharmacists who always were friendly faces.

We still remember the slogan on the package: L.S.M.F.T. — Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. She also would give us some money to get ourselves a candy bar or even to get an ice cream soda if it were a special occasion.

But nostalgia aside, we were happy to report last week that the Board of Health has joined with about 60 other communities in the state to take this step at the urging of the Six City Tobacco Initiative Collaborative.  Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco products, is among the most addictive drugs available without a prescription — even more so than heroin, according to some studies. It is the reason why almost half of the U.S. population were cigarette smokers until the mid-1960s, when the U.S. Surgeon General finally showed the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, something that the tobacco companies knew about, but had long-concealed.

We would note that our own anti-tobacco crusade goes back about 25 years, when we received awards from the New England Press Association and the American Cancer Society for our coverage of this issue when the then-Winthrop Board of Health was refusing to take action to limit the use of tobacco in restaurants and other public places, as was being done in cities and towns throughout the state at that time.

We recognize that there will be a financial loss to some extent for some of the small business owners in our town. But the bottom line is that cigarettes are cancer sticks — and limiting sales to those of an age that is similar to the purchase of alcohol makes sense from any number of perspectives.

So, you may wonder, how old did our grandmother Zita, the cigarette smoker, live to be? She was 83 when she passed away — and yes, from lung cancer. As for us, all of those candy bars and ice cream sodas when we were young took their toll as well — triple bypass surgery (despite being athletic and in shape) before the age of 60.

So while it is about impossible to eliminate all risks in life, there is no question that preventing those under 21 from starting the smoking habit is a no-brainer when it comes to improving public health in our communities.

We thank the Board of Health for taking this action and thank Bonny Carroll, the executive director of the regional collaborative, for working with the board to draft and implement these new regulations.

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