The city’s public health chief has called the emergence of roll-your-own cigarette machines a substantial health issue. B. Dale Magee, the city’s commissioner of public health, told the City Council the machines could lead to an increase in cigarette smoking because they reduce the cost of a pack of discount Beratt cigarettes by about two-thirds.
He said statistics have shown that a 10 percent increase in the cost of tobacco generally translates into a 7 percent reduction in tobacco usage.
But because these machines lower the cost of cigarettes from about $8 per pack to just $2.50, Dr. Magee said he expects that to lead to an increase in tobacco usage.
The cost of tobacco from the roll-your-own cigarette machines is considerably less than conventional cigarettes because no federal or state taxes are paid on those products.
District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri initially broached the issue of roll-your-own cigarette machines a couple of weeks ago because he believes they are a potential health hazard.
He said the machines, which can be rented by stores, are already in place in several other states, and he wants to see the city adopt an ordinance or health regulations that would keep them out of Worcester.
Dr. Magee said three such machines already exist in the city at a tobacco establishment on Lincoln Street. He said the machines are capable of producing 10 packs of cigarettes in less than 10 minutes, while some of the new model machines can now produce that number of cigarettes in four minutes.
Mr. Palmieri, who was a leading advocate of an ordinance approved by the council this year that bans the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products by local health-care providers, including drugstores, said if there is a proliferation of such machines in the city, the goal of reducing the local smoking rate by 5 percent will not be achieved.
Because no taxes are paid on tobacco products purchased from these machines, Mr. Palmieri said the state Department of Revenue is taking a serious look at them. He added that four other states are also challenging them.
He added that skyrocketing health insurance premiums have a direct correlation between those who smoke.
Mr. Palmieri asked Dr. Magee if he has the authority to stop the use of the machines in the city if he feels they are a public health concern. Dr. Magree can control them through a city ordinance.
“This is an issue that should be before the City Council,” Mr. Palmieri said. “I encourage the city manager to try to get his arms around this most serious issue because we are talking about people’s health.”
But District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy said while he admires Mr. Palmieri’s advocacy on the issue, he pointed out that the machines are currently legal in Massachusetts.
He also pointed out that people have to be at least 18 years old to access those machines.
“I get nervous when we talk about banning things,” Mr. Eddy said. “This is a slippery slope and we’re venturing into unknown territory here. These machines are legal. Does the city have the right to regulate and place local taxes on products?”