Pittsfield Health Board Considers Easing Tobacco Retailer Certification

May 15, 2017

The Pittsfield Board of Health is considering easing tobacco retailer certifications. 

The city requires retailers who want to sell tobacco in Pittsfield to abide by the Tri-Town Health Department’s certification program. Since 2008, retailers – like gas station and convenience store clerks – have had to take a $25 exam every three years.

It includes a course that teaches things like the anatomy of a cigarette.

“I’m due in June and I really don’t want to do this again,” David Bertolozzi says.

David Bertolozzi has managed a local gas station for 27 years.

“I don’t smoke. I don’t care what’s in a cigarette. It’s part of my business. It’s a legal product,” Bertolozzi says. “Give me something I can use. Tell me I can’t sell cigarettes to pregnant women or someone who is hooked up to oxygen because I have those customers. And if you tell me that, I will gladly go along with that.”

At last week’s Board of Health meeting, Bertolozzi petitioned the city to ease up on the certification process. Pittsfield Health Director Gina Armstrong describes the petition.

“If a clerk has successfully renewed their certification for three consecutive periods, they should be given a lifetime certification given there are no violations,” Armstrong says. “A violation would require a clerk to be certified again.”

Bertolozzi wants a lifetime certification for clerks who have passed the exam three times without a violation.

Violations include selling tobacco products to minors – a topic of concern statewide. Last month, the state Senate passed a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21. It still needs to be approved by the Massachusetts House and Governor Charlie Baker before becoming law. The current age minimum is 18.

Bertolozzi says he has never had a violation. He calls the recertification an unnecessary cost.

“Every permit went up every fee and license went up,” Bertolozzi says. “Give, like, an olive branch to the business.”

The Tri-Town Health Department uses the fees to do inspections to free up Pittsfield health officials.

“It's not going to be a big hit to Tri-Town Health Department,” Bertolozzi says.

City Board of Health Chairman Jay Green deferred the petition to Tri-Town Health Director Jim Wilusz, who was not in attendance.

“The best venue to have this conversation is to bring Director Wilusz in, because I think a lot of your questions as to why the regualtions exist or why the program exists the way it is best to be answered by Jim,” Green says.

Bertolozzi wants the city to take over the exam process. He says it will help businesses in Pittsfield.

“And that way the money goes to the City of Pittsfield; right now for $25 for every clerk to certify, it goes to Tri-Town Health Dept,” Bertolozzi says. “It doesn't go to the City of Pittsfield. So our businesses are paying the Tri-Town Health Department to run this program.”

“That cost goes to have the inspectors out there. So if we eliminated using Tri-Town as the enforcement arm of it, this department would have to assume that because we are not going to let it go unenforced. So now we are burdening our inspectors,” Green says.

But Green agrees that current regulations might be overdoing it.

“You are making a good point, and we hear you, and we want you to come back and have a good conversation,” Green says.

The petition will be brought up at Tri-Town Health’s next presentation in Pittsfield.