Signs are being posted at all entries to Kingston’s Independence Mall, advising patrons that use of tobacco products, from cigarettes and cigars to chewing tobacco, will be prohibited on the 100-acre property beginning May 31.
The move is unusual for a shopping mall, where people can often be seen lighting up outside the stores, according to anti-tobacco groups.
“I haven’t heard of any other malls adopting propertywide policies, but it is in line with what’s generally happening,’’ said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights. “There has been an increase in going smoke-free on government campuses, at universities, and other workplaces.’’
Pyramid Management Group, the Syracuse-based owner and operator of 11 shopping malls in New York and four in Massachusetts, including Independence Mall, announced its new policy for the Kingston shopping center last month. It will apply to patrons, vendors, delivery people, and contractors and includes the entire property, from entry points and sidewalks to dock areas and parking lots.
Pyramid instituted the policy nearly five years ago at its Carousel Center mall in Syracuse as a test run, and it proved successful, the corporation says. It is working with the American Cancer Society and regional tobacco-control programs to go tobacco-free at its other 14 malls.
David DesRochers, Pyramid’s marketing director for Independence Mall, said the policy will make the plaza unique in this region.
“I’ve talked to managers at other malls, and I know their policies on smoking are similar to what we had: You can smoke outside, but not inside,’’ DesRochers said. “We won’t be alone, though, since Pyramid is doing it at all its malls.’’
The other three Pyramid-owned malls in the state are in Western Massachusetts.
DesRochers says shoppers will not stay away from the Independence Mall because it is tobacco-free. “This cuts down on litter and makes it a more pleasant experience to come to the mall,’’ he said. “Parents with small children don’t like walking through a cloud.’’
Mall security officers are being trained on enforcement, he said. “They will approach people and politely ask them to put out cigarettes.’’
The move to be tobacco-free will affect some mall workers. “Most employees seem to be accepting it,’’ DesRochers said. “I’ve walked around and talked to them. We’ve been working with Jordan Hospital on smoking-cessation classes for employees and we’ll distribute information packets on quitting.’’
Jordan Hospital will offer its six-week Quitters program free of charge to Independence Mall employees beginning June 4.
The Massachusetts chapter of the American Cancer Society is also providing help. “Some of our staff are working with Pyramid,’’ said Marc Hymovitz, the society’s regional director of government relations. “We know secondhand smoke is a carcinogen and deadly. Anything that reduces exposure is welcome.’’
At the society’s urging, Pyramid’s tobacco ban will also include electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes. The devices produce a vapor touted by manufacturers as being free of carcinogens found in cigarettes. E-cigarettes are marketed as simulating the smoking experience without the harmful chemicals in tobacco.
“E-cigarettes continue to glamorize smoking,’’ said Hymovitz. “There is also a false sense of security that these aren’t as dangerous as cigarettes. There’s no evidence of that.’’
Three mall employees, clustered at the main entry taking a smoking break last week, said they have been told of the new tobacco policy and have been warned that there will be repercussions for violations: A first offense would yield a warning, but their employers could be fined if they were caught again, they said.
Steve Silva, who works at the mall’s Pizzeria Regina, said he does not plan to quit smoking but intends to comply with the policy.
“I work four- or five-hour shifts, so I’ll just smoke before work and when I get out,’’ said the 24-year-old. “It’s going to definitely be tough at first.’’
DesRochers said first violations by employees will not result in fines. “If we see people continuing to abuse it, there may be fines or other measures taken,’’ he said. “There’s a possibility we might bring it up with a store’s corporate offices if there are employees who are repeat offenders.’’
Dan McGaughey - who owns Hennessy News, a kiosk that sells candy, magazines, lottery tickets, and cigarettes - said he will continue to sell tobacco. “It’s in my lease,’’ he said.
But he wasn’t willing to say how much of his profit relies on cigarette sales. He has run Hennessy since 1999 and remembers when patrons at Uno’s Restaurant could light up at tables in an indoor area inside the mall. The state’s tobacco laws put an end to that practice in 2004.
“People still smoke outside the mall, but there aren’t nearly as many smokers as there used to be,’’ he said.
Based on state estimates, about 15 percent of adults are smokers.
The May 31 start date for the mall’s tobacco-free policy marks the observance of No Tobacco Day, when smokers worldwide are encouraged to abstain from all forms of tobacco consumption for 24 hours.