Washington Township Police Officer Heather Castronova has a unique perspective on the proposal for a smoke shop in her suburban town of fewer than 9,000 residents.
"I am a Washington Township police officer, juvenile officer, community policing officer, resident, mother and the creator of the Washington Township Moms Facebook group. I’m blessed and fortunate to hold a unique position in our community. This town is my home and the people in it are my family. People in town know how involved I am in all aspects of my community.
"Therefore, I was approached by a large group of concerned Township mothers who oppose the opening of a 'smoke shop' in the Washington Town Center.
"I take no position for or against the type of business that is proposed.
"However, I am of the opinion that locating such a business in our only local strip mall that is frequented by our children has the potential to expose and encourage them to use materials that are hazardous and dangerous to their health, development and well-being.
"It is therefore the location of the business that is the primary concern.
ALSO SEE: Dozens of Washington Township residents are petitioning to keep a smoke shop from opening in town and hope to ultimately change ordinances around smoke, vape and legalized marijuana sales in the town as other local municipalities have done.
"I support and assisted this group to create an online petition opposing the location of the business. I also helped them bring this matter to the public’s attention and inform residents outside of the Facebook group and online community about the issue.
"Similar materials sold in this proposed store are also sold in other venues in Washington Township. These other stores do not exclusively market these smoking and vaping products alone. They are a small part of the products that are available at these locations.
"A store than sells smoking and vaping products exclusively will require the use of heavy marketing to sell its products. The effect of this marketing, as studies have shown, will target the youth of this community. It will encourage and expose children to smoke who would not have otherwise used tobacco if not exposed to this marketing on such a local and consistent basis.
"The Washington Town Center is a safe place for our children to socialize with their peers. Parents feel comfortable sending them there. The businesses cater to the children and, conversely, the children are customers of and spend money in these businesses. The arrangement works well.
"The proximity of a store that markets and sells tobacco products exclusively will mean parents will not feel comfortable sending their kids there. They will actively discourage their children from going to the Town Center, which will certainly hurt the local businesses who we all support and enjoy. The children will lose one of the only places in town where they can safely and independently learn and develop important social skills and group interactions.
"Many children in this community get their first taste of freedom and independence from being allowed to 'go to the shopping center.' In our small town, it has almost become a rite of passage and it’s one this community is proud to have and which we would hate to lose.
"A community has the right to self-determination. People have historically chosen to live in communities that reflect their commonly held norms and standards and ideals. Local zoning and building laws exist to codify and reflect those commonly held principles. Planning and zoning boards exist to maintain the integrity of those laws and to keep the community’s changes and developments consistent with these commonly held ideals.
"It is my personal and professional responsibility to protect and safeguard the children and the community from any threat to their safety, health, well being and happiness.
"A smoke shop-type store in the Washington Town Center would have a negative impact on our community."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.