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WESTMINSTER, Mass. — A public hearing to discuss what could become the nation's first municipal ban on tobacco sales ended early Wednesday night when the crowd got disruptive.
According to The Associated Press, several hundred people attended the meeting of the Westminster Board of Health, with approximately 60 residents signed up to speak. However, only a handful of people were able to speak on the proposal before boos and shouts led the board to adjourn the meeting early.
Audience members carried signs opposing the ban, and some had participated in a rally earlier in the day. Amid shouts of "America!" and "Freedom Now," Board of Health Chairwoman Andrea Crete gaveled the hearing to a close just 25 minutes into it instead of taking comments, the news agency reported.
"The crowd's getting out of control and the room's filled to capacity," she said. "We don't want any riots."
Crete and the two other board members were escorted out by police, and the crowd dispersed. The board will now accept written testimony until Dec. 1 and vote later. Crete didn't specify a date, according to the AP.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't get to have the hearing," she said. "We're trying to save lives and prevent children from being future users."
Joyce McGuire, a Westminster resident and nonsmoker who opposes the ban, also was disappointed the hearing ended early. "I think people are really angry because they feel this is being shoved down their throats," she said. And with the proposal drawing national media attention, she added, "I think we all feel really embarrassed. I don't think this is the way our town is."
The decision rests solely with the board, which is looking to curb new tobacco products that appeal to younger consumers.