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Nearly a dozen Massachusetts towns raise age for cigarette sales

December 26, 2013 06:43 PM

Nearly a dozen communities across the state within the past year have raised the age for tobacco sales higher than 18 years old, evidence of a slow-spreading movement that activists say will reduce cigarette use among teens.

Most states, including Massachusetts, allow 18-year-olds to buy tobacco products. Alaska, Alabama, Utah and New Jersey are the exceptions, all of which have pushed the legal age to 19.

Until last year, Needham was the only community in the United States that prohibited sales to anyone under 21 years old – a change the town made in 2005, according to D.J. Wilson, the tobacco control director at the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Since then, a handful of other Bay State communities have followed behind. Brookline, Belmont, Sharon, Watertown, Westwood, Walpole and Sudbury have all outlawed the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21 within the past year, according to Wilson.

Canton, Ashland, Dedham and Arlington also changed their bylaws to prohibit sales of tobacco to anyone under 19, with Arlington planning to push its age restriction up to 21 years old over a three-year phase-in plan.

“In those towns we hope to see it is actually harder for kids to get their hands on tobacco products,” Wilson said, adding it is too soon to gather any data on smoking rates in those towns.

Other cities and towns across Massachusetts and the country are also looking to ban tobacco sales to young adults. This past spring, New York City became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21. In Massachusetts, the board of health in Newburyport is currently debating a measure that would outlaw sales to anyone under 21. The move faces resistance from the city mayor and some retailers.

“It is interesting in that it kind of cascaded pretty quickly,” Wilson said about the age restriction for tobacco sales.

Critics argue local officials are overstepping their authority, and anyone over 18 is an adult capable of making their own decisions about whether to smoke.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, called the moves “an overreach” by local governments. Anti-tobacco activists are attempting to take the path of least resistance by pushing age restrictions at the local level rather than face a more difficult battle to do it statewide, Hurst said.

“They try to pick off cities and towns here and there,” he said. “Local officials have to know that they are putting their own consumers and employers at a disadvantage.”

Activists credit Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Lester Hartman, a pediatrician in Westwood, with spearheading the change one community at a time.

Winickoff said a slow, steady approach will have a major public health impact statewide.

“I think community by community is what we are going to do for a while, and that’s the way to have this move forward,” Winickoff told the News Service.

Winickoff said he thinks part of the reason the change is spreading is because local town officials have seen the data from Needham. In the eight years since the age-restriction went into effect, the smoking rate for Needham high school students dropped precipitously, according to Winickoff.

The smoking rate for adults who live in Needham is 8 percent compared to 18.1 percent statewide, according to data collected by the Tobacco Control Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Deaths from lung cancer among men from Needham is 24 percent lower than the state average, while women from Needham die from lung cancer at a rate 33 percent lower than the statewide average for women, according to DPH data.

Approximately 90 percent of all smokers begin the habit before they are 21, according to Winickoff and other anti-tobacco activists.

Tami Gouveia, executive director of Tobacco Free Massachusetts, said she is not sure if age-restrictions will continue to catch on in other cities and towns as a way of reducing young people’s access to tobacco. “It is really at the beginning stages of folks starting to take a hard look at this,” she said.

Gouveia compared it to when the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said she thinks increasing the legal age to buy tobacco is unnecessary and an inappropriate issue for the board of health to focus on.

“The legal age is 18. It is the age when you are an adult. You can fight in our wars. You have the right to vote. You can marry. And now we are going to tell you, ‘You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes if you want one,’” Holaday said.

Holaday said she will not dedicate any police resources to enforcing an age restriction on tobacco sales in Newburyport, leaving the question of how effective it might be in that city.

Increasing the legal age for cigarette sales will only hurt local retailers and send consumers to convenience stores in neighboring communities, Holaday said.

Hurst, from the Retailers Association, agreed. If cigarette sales are banned to anyone under 21 in one town, but legal in the next town, residents will buy them in the neighboring community, Hurst said. Secondly, he said, different rules on consumer products in the 351 cities and towns around the state will cause problems.

“I think our local officials have to be willing to stand up to these advocates who are pushing these agendas and tell them, ‘Go hop in your car and go to Boston to push a statewide agenda.’ It has no business being considered at the local level,” Hurst said.

Milton's assistant superintendent picked for Belmont job

December 20, 2013 03:15 PM

Milton's assistant superintendent, John Phelan, has been offered the superintendent job in Belmont, and will probably leave for the new job at the end of the school year.

Phelan confirmed Friday that he was a finalist for the Belmont job and had received an offer from the school.

“I did say 'yes' to that offer, pending contract negotiations,” Phelan said in a phone interview. “We have not finalized the position as of yet.”

Phelan estimated that the details will be wrapped up over the next several weeks. He said he will meet with the School Committee in Belmont next week, and from there meet with staff and community members to start the transition process.

A finalist last year in the Medfield superintendent's job, Phelan said he felt the time was right to move to the next step in his career.

“This is my sixth year as assistant superintendent, and ...I felt ready to move on to a superintendent position in a quality district that values public education and its students. And that’s what attracted me to Belmont and to the position,” he said.

Phelan said it was premature to discuss the next steps. However, the Belmont job has a July 1 start, meaning Phelan’s last day in Milton would likely be June 30, he said.

The replacement process in Milton has not yet begun. Phelan said he would be glad to participate in the screening team for his replacement, but would respect if it was done without his input.

“I’d leave that to the decision of the superintendent, and would do whatever she'd like me to do,” he said.

Superintendent Mary Gormley wasn't immediately available for comment.

Foundation for MetroWest awards $228k in grants to various communities

December 16, 2013 02:03 PM

Representatives from the Foundation for MetroWest announced last week that the foundation has awarded $228,000 in grants to organizations in various communities west of Boston.

The announcement was part of an event held last week at The Center for the Arts in Natick.

The 2013 distributions were focused on three key service areas: arts and culture, environment, and family support. This year's grant recipients will use the money to fund a variety of programs along the lines of these themes, including support for families at-risk of becoming homeless; workforce training and job placement programs; improving access to the arts for underserved populations; the removal of invasive species from local watersheds; and resources to the elderly and victims of domestic abuse.

“During this time of unprecedented financial need, Foundation for MetroWest is proud to support organizations throughout the region,” said Judith Salerno, the foundation's executive director. “By distributing these much needed funds, we are doing our part to ensure that the MetroWest region remains vital and strong.”

A complete list of grant recipients in each category is as follows:

Family Support

  • Advocates, Inc., Framingham
  • Bethany Hill School, FraminghamCOMPASS for Kids, Lexington
  • Cooperative Elder Services, Inc. Lexington
  • Employment Options, Inc., Marlborough
  • Framingham Adult ESL, Natick
  • Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts, Acton
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Waltham
  • Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Framingham
  • LVM Literacy Unlimited, Framingham
  • MetroWest Legal Services, Inc., Framingham
  • MetroWest Mediation Services, Framingham
  • Minuteman Senior Services, Bedford
  • Natick Service Council, Inc., Natick
  • New Hope, Inc., Attleboro
  • Newton Community Service Center, West Newton
  • REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Waltham
  • SMOC - Voices Against Violence, Framingham
  • Waltham Partnership for Youth, Waltham
  • WATCH, Inc., Waltham


Arts and Culture

  • Assabet Valley Mastersingers, Inc., Northborough
  • The Center for the Arts in Natick (TCAN), Natick
  • Danforth Art, Museum\School, Framingham
  • Framingham History Center, Framingham
  • Gore Place, Waltham
  • Medway Friends of Elders, Medway
  • Music Access Group, Dedham
  • New Repertory Theatre, Watertown
  • North Hill, Needham
  • Plugged In, Needham


Environment

  • Charles River Watershed Association, Weston
  • Lake Cochituate Watershed Council, Inc., Natick
  • Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, Belmont
  • Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln
  • OARS, Concord
  • Waltham Land Trust, Waltham

The foundation has distributed over $8 million in grants to the local community since its inception in 1995.

For more information, visit the foundation's official website.

Watertown votes to join committee advocating quieter air travel to and from Logan Airport

December 13, 2013 03:39 PM

Watertown councilors voted this week to join a regional committee advising Logan Airport officials on noise pollution after the residents have complained about a recent spike in airplane noise.

Watertown officials will soon be accepting applications for appointees to the Logan Community Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from about 30 Greater Boston communities who want to reduce overhead noise from airplanes arriving at or departing from Logan Airport in Boston.

Watertown, along with several nearby towns like Belmont, are becoming involved after recent commercial air traffic changes were instituted at Logan Airport, which have concentrated some flight paths with GPS navigation to make trips more efficient, officials said. However, several communities' residents say the loud jet engines are becoming a burden with a steady procession of planes departing from Logan’s 33L runway flying directly above their homes.

Watertown Councilor Angeline Kounelis previously said that the uptick in low-flying planes has left her house shaking at all hours of the day this fall.

Myron Kassaraba, who was appointed by Belmont officials to represent the town on the advisory panel, previously told the Globe that he became involved after he recently noticed a surge of jet traffic concentrated over his house.

“On days when the flight pattern goes over my neighborhood, there could be as many as 100 or more flights a day, when previously it had seemed there would be maybe one or two flights an hour,” Kassaraba said, noting that residents are concerned both by the noise and a resulting decline in property values. “For people in Belmont, this is not something we’ve ever dealt with at this level of frequency.”

Currently, the advisory committee -- which consists of Greater Boston communities within a 20-mile radius from Logan Airport -- is working with the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a Logan noise study, which will help figure out a tangible way to cut back on the loud sounds while also letting airplane pilots travel to and from Logan safely.

Watertown's vote this week to join the regional committee comes after the council's Committee on State, Federal and Regional Government held a meeting Dec. 2 to brainstorm ways to call attention to the issue.

The committee, which is chaired by Kounelis, also asked Town Council to send letters about the noisy plane traffic to state and federal legislators representing Watertown, asking them to continue researching the issue and advise local officials on how to proceed with their cause.

Councilors also voted Monday to ask the town's health department for research on how the noise affects the quality of life in Watertown. They also decided to try setting up a meeting with Federal Aviation Administration officials to discuss the airplane noise.

For more information, view minutes from the Dec. 2 meeting or visit Watertown's official website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwatertown, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

Transportation bill includes money for bike paths around the state

December 12, 2013 05:00 PM

The transportation bond bill making its way through committees on Beacon Hill retains the walking and bicycling path spending at the same level the governor requested even as the overall spending authorized in the bill is significantly smaller.

Gov. Deval Patrick asked for $429.7 million for multi-use paths as part of his $19 billion transportation bond bill he wanted to fund through a $1.9 billion tax increase.

The Transportation Committee redrafted the bill, giving it a $12.1 billion price tag, shortening its term from 10 years to five years and keeping the same level of authorization for bike paths – though the actual spending decisions are handled by the executive branch.

MassDOT has a list of 47 projects totaling $407 million. The most expensive projects are large sections of the Blackstone River Greenway, which would cost $67 million. The path would link Providence to Worcester along the route of an old canal.

The second costliest, at $36 million, is the Mass Central Rail Trail, running from Berlin to Waltham.

The Mattapoisett Rail Trail phase 2 is the third costliest project, at $28.5 million, and would extend a trail along the coast.

There are a range of other projects in Abington, Boston, Boxford, Acton, Barnstable, Bellingham, Lee and many other cities and towns in the state. A Patrick administration official testifying before a legislative committee Wednesday promised to follow up with information about spending on multi-use paths.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

Special election for Ed Markey's former seat on Tuesday

December 9, 2013 05:21 PM
Special election for U.S. House district Tuesday (via Your Arlington)

Clark Addinivola The special election to decide who will represent the state's Fifth District in the U.S. House is set for Tuesday, Dec. 10. Polls in Arlington will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Vying for the seat held until last summer by Edward J.…

Watertown holiday tree lighting to take place Dec. 6

November 21, 2013 05:25 PM

The Watertown-Belmont Chamber of Commerce and Watertown officials will host the second annual holiday tree lighting in Watertown Square on Friday, Dec. 6.

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Photo from wbcc.org
Last year's tree lighting in Watertown Square
Santa Claus will arrive at the square on a fire truck at 5:15 p.m., right before the tree is lit at 5:30 p.m., officials said. A reception will follow immediately after at the Watertown Savings Bank, where attendees can drink hot chocolate and cider and eat light refreshments provided by Dunkin' Donuts. Locals can also listen to holiday music and visit with Santa Claus.

Last year "was the first year we held this event and we were really pleased with the turnout,” said Bob Airasian, the commerce chamber's president, in a statement. “We’re really excited for this year’s tree lighting, and to continue with this wonderful holiday tradition.”

Parking will be available at the bank after 5 p.m.

This year's tree was donated by A. Russo and Sons, Inc., and the decorating was done in part by Home Depot, officials said.

For more information, visit the Watertown-Belmont Chamber of Commerce's official website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwatertown, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

Lexington residents Attend Mount Auburn Hospital Auxiliary Event

November 20, 2013 04:55 PM

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Handout

Janet McBride of Watertown, Doris Donahue of Lexington, and Betty Gaughn of Lexington

Mount Auburn Hospital Auxiliary held its Annual Fall Luncheon and Meeting last month at the Oakley Club in Watertown.

The event is an initiative by the Auxiliary to host a joint community gathering and business meeting to plan for 2014. Officers, directors and nominating committee members are elected at the event.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Kurkjian attended as guest speaker. Kurkijan worked as reporter and editor at the Boston Globe for 38 years, and spoke about his career at the event.

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Handout

Auxiliary President Donna Smerlas of Watertown, Angel Parseghian, Theresa DiLando, Janet Maguire, and Vicky Tomasian of Belmont, Maureen Kasparian of Lexington, Maryann Scali of Belmont, Ruth Pratt of Lexington, Deborah Spearman of Cambridge. and Sylvia Whitney of Watertown

Shandana Mufti can be reached at shandana.mufti@globe.com.

Mount Auburn Hospital tree lighting ceremony slated for Dec. 12

November 20, 2013 03:15 PM

Mount Auburn Hospital’s auxiliary group will hold its 10th annual tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. in the hospital's Stanton lobby.

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Handout
A previous Mount Auburn Hospital tree.
The event will feature performances by the Belmont High School madrigal singers under the direction of conductor Sean Landers, and the Waltham High School guitar ensemble under the direction of conductor Brad Ellenberg.

There will also be an audience sing-along, followed by a reception with hot cocoa and homemade cookies provided by the hospital’s food service staff.

Attendees are also encouraged to purchase commemorative lights at $10 each. Funds raised from the lights will help bolster services that the hospital offers to the community, according to event organizers.

Over the past nine years, more than $100,000 has been raised in tree lighting contributions, according to organizers.

To make a donation or to RSVP, please contact Jan Ankerson at 617-499-5016 or by email at jankerso@mah.harvard.edu.

More information can also be found online at the hospital's website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwatertown, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

Lawyers raising questions about Watertown home searches following Marathon bombings, shootout

November 14, 2013 02:52 PM

A group of lawyers is saying they think authorities' actions during the Boston and Watertown-area shutdown days after the Marathon bombings were unconstitutional, and they want to discuss it with the residents involved.

Attorneys from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild hosted a forum Thursday in Watertown about the home searches that took place there on April 19. The event was held at the Watertown library on Main Street.

The discussion in Watertown last night, which guild leaders said was attended by about 30 people, was one in a series on the subject. The guild also hosted a forum earlier this month in Boston, and plan to hold at least two more in Boston and Cambridge in January and February.

Top lawyers in the guild said that there was an unprecedented show of force in Watertown, Cambridge, and other area communities, and that many houses in Watertown were searched without a warrant.

"The guild’s position is that what happened in April was problematic, but at the same time we just wanted to hear stories from people who experienced that," said Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the lawyers' guild, over the phone Friday. "Many people said they had been troubled by what happened and they didn’t know how to approach it, and felt uncomfortable having a conversation about it because they didn't know how others would react."

Benjamin Falkner, a member of the guild's litigation committee, said police usually need individualized suspicion before searching a house or arresting someone.

“The widespread searches of many Watertown homes without any individualized suspicion have no constitutional precedent," Falkner said in a statement. "Without such precedent, the question is whether the searches were lawful under our constitutions. We believe that the answer to that question is, No.”

Masny-Latos also said the extraordinary methods of response used during the manhunt and shutdown could lead to even bigger issues down the road.

"The questions that need to be posed and answered are 'What made this pursuit of a suspect so different from other suspect pursuits that it required such an unusual law enforcement response?' and 'What is the level of militarization of police force, and in what situations will this force be used?'" said Masny-Latos in a statement. "These are important questions that need to be addressed to make sure democracy and civil rights in our country are protected and secured."

Masny-Latos said while bringing legal action against authorities is not a priority right now, the guild is gathering feedback and stories to determine whether they should.

"Our goal is to start the conversation and from those discussions analyze the serious implications and hopefully be able to see if there is something that would be able to bring a legal action," she said over the phone Friday. "But that is not our goal right now."

For more information on the event or subject, visit the guild's local website.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourwatertown, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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