WESTFORD — Tobacco inspections have slowed as of 2018, leading to thousands in unclaimed fines in Westford.
Health Department unable to fill position
“We are still in the process of looking at who in our department will be able to conduct tobacco inspections,” said Health Director Rae Dick in a May 9 Board of Health meeting. “We do not have anyone at this point to conduct those inspections.”
She continued, “fines are being issued and unfortunately we do not have the manpower at this time to follow up on those inspections.”
Dick clarified that though fines are issued, the department is unable to follow-up to collect on issued fines. According to Dick, the town has been unable to collect on approximately $5,000 fines since 2019.
Currently, the department is evaluating whether to hire an inspector or to add responsibilities to existing part-time positions.
“At this time we’re trying to find some creative ways to keep tobacco inspections going,” Dick told WestfordCAT. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. We have 20 tobacco retailers.”
Inspections were previously handled by the former Substance Abuse Coordinator, who retired in 2018. According to Town Manager Jodi Ross, the Select Board created a new position of Community Wellness Coordinator to handle substance abuse prevention as well as tobacco inspections.
“No other town in our market basket employs a Tobacco Control person in their department,” Ross told WestfordCAT in an email.
The Community Wellness Coordinator position has not been filled at the time of reporting.
Tobacco education still ongoing, despite inspection issues
Tobacco education and prevention is still ongoing, according to Dick. These programs are handled by a regional community health and wellness coordinator, shared with Acton, Dracut and Lowell.
“We have our regional community health and wellness coordinator working on the cessation portion,” she said. “But as far as instructional inspections and follow-ups on fines [we do not have that].”
Dick noted that the department is continuing to pursue avenues to continue inspections and to collect unpaid fines.
“We’ll keep pursuing funding where we can and see what we can do,” said Dick.
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