Smoking ban proposal sparks debate in Amherst
Smokers and non-smokers arrived at Bangs Community Center Thursday to discuss possible new changes to the smoking laws of Amherst, which would prohibit smoking on town-owned outdoor properties and outside of restaurants.
According to Julie Federman, health director for the town of Amherst, the amendment is meant to protect the town’s workers from the potentially adverse health affects of second-hand smoke.
The room was filled to capacity by many University of Massachusetts students, local business owners, and Amherst citizens, most of whom opposed the proposed amendment to the law.
Members of the Board of Health notified certain organizations and businesses that they thought may be concerned about the amendment.\
Many members of the UMass Cannabis Reform Committee attended the meeting to oppose the measure.
President of the CRC Cory Gillis felt this change to the bylaws would adversely affect the Extravaganja event held on the Amherst Common each April.
Extravaganja is an annual festival which invites bands and members of the “smoking” culture to revel in good company and partake in herbal recreation very publicly.
According to Chris Pappademas, a sophomore plant biotech major, the event brings more than 1,000 people to Amherst Commons every year.
“Many people smoking on the common may not be aware that the law exists,” said Gillis, who is a Japanese major. “It feels like civil liberties are not being respected by the town.”
The proposed amendment would come in addition to the smoking bylaws passed in 1999, later amended June 1, 2009, which banned smoking in bars and restaurants.
Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and also the organizer of the Taste of Amherst festival, voiced concern that the proposed amendment would potentially hurt attendance to such an event.
According to Maroulis, the addition of the new legislation is not necessary, and could potentially deter people from coming to civic events. Maroulis continued by stating that summer events on the Amherst common bring over 30,000 people, which helps to stimulate the local Amherst economy, and that he feels banning smoking at such events could dissuade some from coming out.
Amherst resident and Tabella’s Restaurant waiter Chris Powell, 20, echoed others who were worried about the potential impact on the local economy.
“Local businesses have haven struggling over the past couple of years,” said Powell. “Why are they trying to make [the town] unattractive to graduates and people who can rectify the situation?” Powell asked the board.
Cindy Walker, 45, also of Amherst, felt the public hearing was a success.
“I think a lot of good points were brought up by citizens [of Amherst],” said Walker. “I don’t smoke around my kids in the house or in the car,” continued Walker, “If I can’t smoke outside, then where can I smoke?”
David Ahfeld, a member of the Board, believed Thursday’s discussion proved fruitful.
“There were a lot of interesting comments,” he said
The law already in place imposes a fine of $100 for a first offense on the manager or organizer for smoking in a place where smoking is prohibited. The fine increases by $100 every time a person violates the policy, and runs to $300 per subsequent violations in a two year period between each violation.
Bobby Hitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.