Unruly Crowd Shuts Down Westminster Tobacco Ban Meeting

A resident waves a US flag and a second holds a sign reading 'What's Next?' while shouting after the board of health chairwoman closed the town hearing due to disruptions in Westminster.
A resident waves a US flag and a second holds a sign reading 'What's Next?' while shouting after the board of health chairwoman closed the town hearing due to disruptions in Westminster. –CJ Gunther/EPA

They may take our lives, but they’ll never take . . . our cigarettes?

Westminster may become the first municipality in the country to ban all tobacco sales, but some businesses and town members are not ready to give up their Marlboros, Camels and Parliaments.

A public hearing on a potential tobacco ban in the western Massachusetts town of Westminster was shut down Wednesday night after boisterous audience members loudly voiced their opposition to the ban.

The Boston Globe reported that one member in the 500-person audience at Westminster Elementary School said he was “disgusted’’ that the town’s board of health would introduce such a proposal, which led to cheers from the crowd.

“This is about freedom; it’s my body and it’s my choice to smoke,’’ said Nate Johnson, 32, a Westminster farmer and auto body worker. He was puffing on a cigarette at a rally before the hearing where opponents held signs saying “It’s not about tobacco — it’s about control’’ and “Smoke ’em if you got them.’’

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WBZ’s Julie Loncich captured video of the crowd booing and chanting protests at the board. After the meeting ended, police escorted board of health members out of the building. As the room cleared, the crowd began to sing, “God Bless America,’’ reported WBZ.

Board of Health Chairwoman Andrea Crete told the Globe, “It was going to get out of control. We don’t need any riots.’’

According to the Globe, more than 1,000 residents of the tiny town signed a petition opposing the ban.

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