HAVERHILL — Drive by any downtown restaurant or bar on a busy night, and you'll see a group of customers near the entrance smoking.
Stop into a pharmacy to pick up some cold medicine and you might see someone buying a pack of cigarettes.
Go to an event in a private club and people sitting at the next table might be lighting up.
Those scenarios would end if the city's Health Board adopts new public smoking rules proposed for Haverhill. The board is considering regulations aimed at protecting the public from second-hand cigarette smoke by limiting where people can light up.
Health Board member Peter Carbone said the new regulations are a work in progress and he expects changes once the board begins to gather public input and holds public hearings. He said the board announced its plans to stiffen smoking rules at its March meeting and will discuss a draft of the proposed new regulations May 8.
"Health costs are rising. Smoking is a proven health hazard, as is second-hand smoking, so to protect the general health of the public we want to stiffen these regulations," Carbone said. "We used (the town of) Athol's bylaws as our model. That town's laws were challenged but were upheld by the court."
Under Haverhill's proposed regulations, pharmacies would no longer be able to sell tobacco products. This would impact eight businesses in the city: Two Rite Aids, two Walgreens and four CVS stores.
Smoking would also be banned near the entrances to public buildings, including bars, taverns, and sit-down and fast-food restaurants. Smoking would be prohibited near the entryway, open window, staffed drive-up or drive-through window, and the smoke-free area must be large enough so that second-hand smoke does not enter the building or an outdoor deck, or affect the air quality for patrons or employees, Carbone said.
The board also wants to make it harder for young people to buy tobacco products. Stores would not be allowed to sell single cigars priced at less than $2.50 each, could not sell electronic cigarettes to minors, and would be required to post additional warning signs including information about smoking cessation programs. The idea is to make it more expensive for minors to buy these products in hopes they will not become lifelong smokers.
Smoking has been banned in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other enclosed public places in Massachusetts since 2004. In February 2009, Boston enacted a ban on smoking on outside patios of restaurants and bars, and also banned pharmacies from selling tobacco products. Boston also banned smoking in hotel rooms.