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Sharon Selectboard Passes Policy to Discourage Tobacco Use

Signs at Baxter Memorial Library tell visitors not to smoke on the library's grounds in Sharon, Vt. on August 4, 2013. The library installed the signs following the passage of Sharon's new anti-smoking law. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

Signs at Baxter Memorial Library tell visitors not to smoke on the library's grounds in Sharon, Vt. on August 4, 2013. The library installed the signs following the passage of Sharon's new anti-smoking law. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »

Sharon — A new policy that recently went into effect is meant to discourage the use of tobacco around town, Sharon officials said.

The policy, which extends to all tobacco products and began on Aug. 1, prohibits its use on all town-owned properties and inside vehicles. It was passed unanimously at a Selectboard meeting in mid-July, said Paul Haskell, the board’s chairman.

According to Haskell, the town-wide policy was a way of combining several disparate and ad hoc policies formed over the years.

“We decided it would be prudent to elevate our thoughts about helping folks quit smoking if they are, and keep folks from smoking, if they aren’t,” Haskell said.

Besides prohibiting smoking on town-owned properties, the policy also states that the town will refer employees and officials who smoke to tobacco cessation programs. In addition, it will reach out to businesses to join the anti-tobacco cause, and promote the cause at events such as Town Meeting.

The issue with the passing the policy is how to enforce it, Haskell said.

“That’s always the $9 million question,” he said. “To be perfectly candid, the town is not going to hire smoking police.”

However, he said, if a town employee were to violate the policy, the Selectboard would look to the town’s personnel plan to sanction him.

That doesn’t mean the town is expecting to hand out several penalties to town employees, Haskell said, considering not all that many town employees smoke or use other forms of tobacco.

To put the plan in place, the Selectboard worked with Cathy Hazlett, the executive director of Health Connections of the Upper Valley, which is based in North Pomfret. Hazlett has pitched anti-tobacco plans to several towns, utilizing grant money from the Vermont Department of Health.

“I think part of our success in Sharon is that the Selectboard in Sharon was right on board with understanding the public health concerns,” Hazlett said. “It’s really important to send the message out, particularly to young people: There is no safe, or safer, type of tobacco product.”

Other towns have been reluctant to adopt such a policy.

Members of the Royalton Selectboard expressed worries about enforcement and the potential for it to infringe on individual rights, according to minutes from last December. Messages left for board members in Royalton were not returned yesterday.

In Sharon, several small signs, all bearing the phrase “Thanks for Keeping This a Smoke-Free Zone,” have sprung up at town landmarks, such as Baxter Memorial Library on Route 14. In fact, the library has two — one stuck to the side of the building, and another in the entryway of the gazebo behind it.

They join several signs that have long been posted at Sharon Elementary School by Health Connections of the Upper Valley.

Judy Tyson wondered if the signs had been put up recently when she ventured onto the gazebo to read yesterday.

“I’m entirely supportive of it,” said Tyson, who lives in Sharon.

She said she was a fan of the inoffensive qualities of the signs, which use a playful-looking, colorful font and background and don’t threaten fines or prosecution.

“That’s a very nice way of doing it,” Tyson said. “It doesn’t offend anybody.”

The policy, said Hazlett, is meant to be a proactive one, to discourage something that isn’t terribly prevalent in Sharon but might one day be.

At the playground of the nearby Sharon Elementary yesterday, resident Kali Livingston agreed.

“That’s good,” Livingston said of the new policy. She watched her 21/2 -year-old daughter, Zowie, play on the nearby blacktop. “I think that anywhere that children are around, there shouldn’t be smoking.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.