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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.

Governor Patrick announces $27 million for Massasoit Community College health building

November 25, 2013 03:29 PM

The following is a press release from the Massasoit Community College

Brockton, MA (November 22, 2013) - Governor Deval Patrick announced on Wednesday at the Metro South Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, held at the Massasoit Conference Center, a $27.4M appropriation for Massasoit Community College to construct a Health Sciences building. This new building will provide much needed teaching and lab space and will allow Massasoit to expand its allied health programs. Additionally, with the new space, Massasoit will be able to introduce students to the latest technology in laboratory, diagnostic, and medical simulation in Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Respiratory, Polysomnography, Medical Assisting, and Phlebotomy programs. It will also enhance the College’s capacity to meet projected workforce needs and to explore the possibility of new programs and courses. “Growth requires investment, and these investments in education, infrastructure, and open space will bring growth and opportunity to the Metro South area and beyond,” said Governor Patrick.

Massasoit Community College President, Dr. Charles Wall said, “The College has been given an unprecedented and unique opportunity to expand our main campus in a way that we have not been able to do since the second phase of building construction in the late 1970s. Though our growth has taken our physical presence to Canton and to Middleborough, and though we will continue to reach to places in the region where we are most needed, this funding creates an expansion possibility right here at the Brockton campus.” Massasoit offers the only Radiologic Technology and Respiratory Care Programs in the southeastern region of the state, and was the first to offer a 2-year Polysomnography degree program in the Northeast. 30% of the College’s 2013 graduates received Allied Health/Science degrees. Growth in the sciences is up 39% from the 2006 academic year and has outpaced overall College growth. The new building will allow the College to create new programs and courses in such areas as medical laboratory technician, biotechnology, and nutrition. There is a great need for additional laboratory facilities in general biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences. Having additional space for our health programs will enable the repurposing of converted space in the existing science building both to meet these needs and to expand current science programming. Anatomy and physiology and microbiology is also likely to move to the new building, which will further ease congestion in health and science programs and classrooms resulting from increased enrollments; Liberal Arts Transfer-Science is one of the College’s fastest growing programs, with a 35% increase over last year, and more than five times as many students as it had just four years ago.

Plans unsure for repair to historic Broderick Stable in Milton

November 18, 2013 06:02 PM

Repairs on the horse paddocks at the Blue Hills Reservation have been completed, but more extensive work on the Broderick Stable is still a ways off.

Massachusetts Park Ranger Lt. Susan Survillo said work finished on Nov. 17 to fix the paddocks, the penned-in areas for the mounted horse unit next to the stable.

“[It’s] where the horses are 'turned-out' during rest time,” Survillo said in an email. “I, along with staff, years ago (1999) built the paddocks (70’ x 70’) with wood post and rail, there are two still standing, and the cross rails needed replacement due to rot.”

Volunteers from the Friends of the Blue Hills, the Friends of the Massachusetts Park Ranger Mounted Unit, and Park Ranger Mounted Unit Volunteers carried out the work, funded by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the area.

Yet despite the recent upkeep, maintenance plans on the historic Broderick Stable next to the paddocks is still under discussion.

“There have been discussions about renovating the stable, but nothing concrete as of yet,” Survillo said.

To Milton Planning Board Chairman Alexander Whiteside, the turn-of-the-century stable tucked in the Blue Hills Reservation is a piece of history - all the more reason it should be preserved.

Whiteside has been pushing for the Department of Conservation and Recreation to rehab the building, which helped to home horses used by early park rangers in providing park security.

“It was an integral part of how they ran an early public wildlife park, and the buildings were recognized as important as part of our history,” Whiteside said.

Broderick Stables is also on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, Whiteside said, a trait that should only elevate the need to preserve the structure.

“It is a nationally registered building, you would think there would be grants available if there’s a shortfall of funds,” Whiteside said. “But they should protect their buildings, especially significant ones... you just can’t let them fall down.”

Though current plans are vague, Whiteside seemed optimistic at the initial progress.

"I've been pushing DCR and they seem to recognize the importance of the building and will be doing something about it,” he said.

Canton boy collects candy for cancer patients

November 11, 2013 01:50 PM

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At Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Griffin Lincoln stands with the candy he collected.

For the third year in a row, Griffin Lincoln, 11, of Canton, asked his friends and classmates to donate their excess Halloween candy for the patients and families at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in memory of his grandfather, Joe Molinari, a former patient.

This year, with the help of his friends at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Galvin Middle School, Neponset Valley River Rats, Elite Health and Fitness, Friends of Milton Boot camp and many other generous Canton families, Griffin was able to collect 615 pounds of candy.

Last year's donation of 550 pounds lasted the institute six months.

Griffin started the candy drive in 2011 as a way to remember his grandfather, who would always bring home a treat for Griffin from the many candy dishes around the hospital.

Regional and vocational technical schools would get more money under bill

October 24, 2013 04:39 PM

Regional and vocational technical high schools would be eligible for additional state funding for capital projects, under legislation filed by Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, an Arlington Democrat.

Advocates for the bill (S 228) told lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Education Thursday that regional and vocational technical high schools desperately need the state’s help to fund renovation and improvement projects because it is nearly impossible to get several different towns all to agree to take on the debt.

James Laverty, superintendent at Franklin County Technical School, said his school has done as many renovations as they can over the years without asking the towns for money.

“We will have to go to 19 towns at town meeting with our hat in our hands,” he said.

The odds are stacked against them to get all the towns to approve a large renovation project, Laverty said.

The town of Heath, in Franklin County, has only two students who attend the school out of 500 students. If 70 people in Heath show up at town meeting, and 36 vote no, “the whole project is dead in the water,” Laverty said.

Under the legislation, regional and vocational technical high schools would be eligible for additional reimbursement, which is calculated by the Massachusetts School Building Authority based on a four-part formula. A school district can receive up to 80 percent of the cost of a capital improvement project, and must pay for any remaining share of the cost.

The formula awards percentage points of reimbursement in three mandatory income-based metrics. Regional school districts often have unequal shares for each city or town when improvement costs are allocated, according to Donnelly’s office. The legislation would increase the percentage points awarded in the grant process for regional schools by 10 points, and vocational schools would receive 20 additional points. The goal is lower the costs for cities and towns, according to Donnelly’s office.

If the Legislature offers a “little more” and regional school capital projects can get closer to 80 percent reimbursement from the MSBA, “it would make it a little easier,” Laverty said.

Alice DeLuca, the Stow representative to the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, said vocational and technical high school students are at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts at traditional high schools because their schools cannot renovate and bring in the latest technologies.

State lawmakers need to back up with money the support they voice for vocational and technical schools, she said.

“These schools provide the middle skills that everybody says they want,” DeLuca said.

“The kids who go to vocational schools do not have a nice, new renovated building and they are never going to unless something is done,” she added.

Survey seeks opinions on Norfolk County judges

October 21, 2013 10:00 AM

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court is sending questionnaires to attorneys and court employees in Norfolk County, seeking input on 35 judges as part of an ongoing program to evaluate judicial performance.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s survey covers several categories including a judge’s knowledge of the law, fairness and impartiality, temperament on the bench and treatment of litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys.

Lawyers who have appeared in court in the county over the last two years will receive questionnaires.

All questionnaires are confidential and do not ask for the names of the respondents. The resulting reports also will be confidential and are given only to the judge being evaluated and to the chief justices of their courts.

Questionnaires will be accepted by the SJC through mid-December.

Dunkin' Donuts explains reasons for staying in Canton

October 17, 2013 06:00 PM

After receiving an offer to relocate to Westwood, Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. decided to keep its roots in Canton for another 16 years.

“We’re happy with our nine years here and we’re looking forward to the next 16,” Jason Maceda, vice-president of Dunkin’ Brands, announced at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday.

The Dunkin’ Brands headquarters employs about 500 people, 10 percent of them Canton residents, officials say. The company has more than 17,000 Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins franchises worldwide.

Seated beside state Representative William C. Galvin and Canton Economic Development chairman Gene Manning, Maceda said there were obstacles in reaching a deal, but the company, town, and landlord were able to work through them.

One of those obstacles was an offer for the company to move to the new University Station development project in Westwood, according to Galvin.

“Westwood’s offer was better than what we were able to offer, but [Dunkin’ Brands has] become a part of Canton,” said Galvin, who did not provide details of the offer. “They really wanted to stay but made sure it made fiscal sense.”

In a telephone interview Thursday, Westwood Town Administrator Michael Jaillet said Dunkin’ Brands had approached the town to see whether it would make sense for them to relocate. Jaillet said he had spoken with company representatives, but declined to say what the town had offered.

Jaillet said he was disappointed to learn that Dunkin’ Brands would not move to Westwood, but was happy that the company will remain in the region.

The company’s lease for 130 Royall St. was set to expire next year, but Canton selectmen recommended to extend a 20 percent tax break to the landlord, Boston-based real estate corporation H.N. Gorin, for 10 years. The break comes in the form of a tax-increment financing district for the building.

H.N. Gorin will then pass on savings to Dunkin’ Brands.

Town Meeting has yet to ratify the recommendation, but Dunkin’ Brands is proceeding with the lease extension, according to Maceda.

In July, Manning had suggested extending the tax break for five years, but selectmen voted to recommend a 10-year extension based on the competitive bids Dunkin’ Brands received and their desire to keep the company in town, said Selectman Robert Burr.

The 175,000-square-foot Royall Street building is valued at $16.5 million and produces about $350,000 annually in taxes for Canton, Manning said.

Maceda added that Dunkin’ Brands would give the town $25,000 for the senior center to be opened at 500 Pleasant St., provide two $2,500 scholarships to Canton High seniors, and set up an internship for a Canton High School student, Maceda said.

The company already contributes to youth sports and is a member of the Canton Association of Business and Industry, Manning said.

Manning said the town also receives good media exposure through press releases sent out by Dunkin’ Brands.

“Every time, Canton, Mass., is at the top of the story,” Manning said.

Selectmen chairman Gerald Salvatori complimented Maceda and his company.

“You’ve always been extremely accommodating, easy to work with, and generous with organizations in town,” Salvatori said.

Governor Patrick pushing head on south coast rail project

September 24, 2013 03:25 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday he’s pushing ahead with plans to build a commuter rail along the state’s south coast after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final environmental review of the proposal.

The announcement marks another milestone for the long-debated project, which still faces many hurdles, both practical and political.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey called the report’s release ‘‘a critical step forward in obtaining the environmental clearances’’ needed to bring commuter rail service to south coast residents.

Davey said the state supports a proposed rail route that would take trains through Stoughton, Easton, Raynham and Taunton before branching off into two lines, one for Fall River and one for New Bedford. He said the route provides the best transportation, environmental and development benefits.

The state had weighed two other possible routes. One would use electric or diesel trains on an existing route through Attleboro. The other would create dedicated rapid bus lanes on Route 24 and portions of I-93.

Davey said once the environmental process is completed the state can begin developing final design plans for the project, which will provide a link from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. The MBTA will take the lead in coming up with a final design.

Patrick, a Democrat who’s announced he’s not seeking a third term as governor, praised the release of the report.

‘‘Residents of the south coast have been waiting for 20 years for a reliable transit system that connects conveniently to Boston and everything in between,’’ Patrick said in a written statement. ‘‘We are making it happen.’’

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, however, said he remains skeptical about whether the state could get the necessary environmental permits and whether the project’s price tag is worth the investment.

‘‘It’s a $2 billion project, and the big question in my mind (is) is that the best way to spend $2 billion’’ in southeastern Massachusetts, Baker said earlier this month.

The latest cost estimate for the project is $1.8 billion.

Democratic candidates for governor, including Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman, are more supportive of the project.

Grossman said the rail line will ‘‘boost economic growth and dramatically enhance quality’’ in the region. A campaign spokesman for Coakley said she believes the project is ‘‘a critical infrastructure investment that will pay dividends in jobs and economic growth.’’

Another Democratic candidate, Wellesley selectman Joseph Avellone, said if elected governor he'd make sure the project is completed.

State transportation officials say they've already taken steps to lay the groundwork for the rail project including the rebuilding of three New Bedford bridges, funded by a $20 million federal grant.

The environmental report released Monday details what effect the project could have on noise levels, aesthetics, wetlands, air quality and historic and environmental resources. It describes measures to avoid or minimize those effects.

The state will hold two public open houses to discuss the environmental report and will accept public comments through Oct. 26. The open houses are scheduled for Oct. 8 in Taunton and Oct. 17 in Fall River.

Attorney General sets limits on town medical marijuana bans

September 21, 2013 08:34 AM

Having rejected a medical marijuana moratorium that would have extended into 2015 and approved a moratorium that ends in December 2014, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has developed a cut-off point for towns that want to extend temporary moratoriums on the fledgling industry.

Since voters approved a medical marijuana initiative petition in November 2012 and the Department of Public Health in May adopted regulations for establishing marijuana dispensaries, about a third of the state’s cities and towns have enacted temporary moratoriums designed to provide more time to develop new zoning and other regulations.

On Wednesday, the AG’s Municipal Law Unit chief, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley, gave approval to the town of Dartmouth for a moratorium extending until Dec. 4, 2013.

“However, we cannot presently see how a moratorium that extends beyond December 31, 2014 would be considered reasonable,” Hurley wrote, citing a 1980 case Sturges v. Chilmark, which involved zoning on Martha’s Vineyard.

The AG’s office has previously ruled that towns cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries because that is contrary to the state law passed on a ballot referendum.

On Sept. 12, Hurley denied a bylaw passed by Canton Town Meeting, which would have ended June 30, 2015. “We recognize that every town’s planning needs are different, and that some towns have professional planning staff while other towns rely solely upon volunteer planning board members. Even in light of these varying planning needs and capacities, it is reasonable to expect a town to complete its planning process for the limited (albeit new and complex) use of [registered marijuana dispensaries] by December 30, 2014, a full 19 months after publication of the DPH regulations,” Hurley wrote.

Towns are required to submit their bylaw changes to the AG for approval. Cities do not have to undergo an AG review for their ordinances.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch answers questions on Syria at Quincy town meeting

September 13, 2013 11:29 AM

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who opposes US military intervention in Syria, was in good company at town hall in Quincy Thursday.

The South Boston Democrat spent nearly two hours taking questions from a polite crowd, whose inquiries revealed a deep vein of doubt that military action would achieve positive results for the country and thanks that Lynch held that view.

“I really appreciate your commitment to voting against another war in the Middle East,” said Dorchester resident Jeff Klein, 67, echoing the sentiment of the majority of questioners in the Quincy High School auditorium.

The crowd of about 100 people, which was split between men and woman, skewed older and included a number of military veterans. Many asked questions of fact -- how can we know that the chemical weapons were used by Assad’s regime? -- while others just wanted to have their voice heard in opposition to striking Syria.

Lynch gave detailed, often nuanced, answers to every question he was asked, often peppering his responses with anecdotes from his many visits over the years to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region.

He said that the high volume of constituent calls and emails about the potential intervention in Syria -- more than five to one against -- prompted him to hold the event.

On Aug. 31, President Obama said in an address he believed the US should take military action against Syria after the reported use of chemical weapons by the forces of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. But, he said, he would first ask Congress for its green light.

In the subsequent days, public opinion and the opinion of many members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, appeared to be strongly opposed to authorizing Obama to strike Syria. Many in the all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation, Lynch among them, expressed deep skepticism about military action in the civil war-torn Middle Eastern country.

But after a potential diplomatic settlement in which Syria would give up its chemical weapons began to gain traction, Obama announced Tuesday he had asked Congress postpone a vote on the authorization of force.

Before Lynch took questions Thursday evening, he spoke about what informed his opposition to authorizing the use of force and was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the audience.

He said there were two main reasons he was currently against intervention.

The first, he said, is that there is a “fundamental flaw in the foreign policy of the United States to unilaterally attack Syria without meaningful international support.”

The second was that “the course of military action that has been chosen, as described Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry has I think a pretty unlikely probability of success in terms achieving what we would hope for in Syria.”

Lynch’s position puts him at odds with Obama, an issue he addressed early in the forum.

“I love my President, but, based on my own reading of this -- and this is where democracy with a small d comes into play -- I think that’s the wrong the decision,” Lynch said.

Lynch staffers provided copies of the authorization resolution, which many in the audience flipped through over the course of the event.

Heba Eid, 28, was one of the only questioners who expressed support of US military action in Syria.

“I don’t think Bashar al-Assad is going to agree to any kind of diplomacy unless there is military pressure on him,” Eid said. “I think that the House should vote for military action.” She said that doing nothing in the face of the alleged chemical weapons use would send the wrong message to Assad.

Lynch, engaged in a lengthy but respectful back and forth with her, replied that “There are a lot of options between bombing and doing nothing.”

In the televised primetime address on Tuesday, Obama also said that taking action in Syria did not mean the US would get involved in every humanitarian crisis across the world.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death...I believe we should act,” the President said.

But that message had not resonated among the people in the auditorium Thursday night.

Quincy resident Russell Erikson, 91, served as a pilot in World War II and was the first member of the public to arrive at the town hall. He said he was opposed to a military intervention in Syria, not wanting to see any young American men or women die in that conflict.

“We can’t police the whole world,” he said.

Joshua Miller can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos. A version of this post appeared on the Political Intelligence blog.

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