Massachusetts restricts sales on flavored tobacco, nicotine vaping

Lawmakers push for answers on vaping
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Lawmakers in DC are putting a microscope on the response to the vaping crisis.

Massachusetts placed heavy restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine vaping products Wednesday, with GOP Gov. Charlie Baker signing into law a set of sweeping tobacco controls.

The legislation outlaws any flavored tobacco products, including mentholated cigarettes and flavored nicotine-based e-cigarettes, except those sold for on-site consumption in specialty smoking bars. The law puts a 75% excise tax on non-flavored e-cigarettes sold in the state, and restricts the amount of nicotine that can be in non-flavored vapes sold anywhere but a specialty shop.

“The bill we signed today goes a long way towards restricting access to the most addictive kinds of nicotine and vaping products,” Baker said following the signing. “The bill will keep kids and teenagers from getting their hands on vaping products, especially flavored products that encourage young people to start using.”

“The new law will also make sure that electronic cigarettes are treated the same way as traditional tobacco products concerning taxation and point-of-sale restrictions,” Baker added.

The Republican governor took a swipe at federal regulators and the Trump administration, which has yet to deliver on e-cigarette restrictions since announcing its intention to address the issue in September.

“Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the federal government is not going to act decisively, so we’re going to do everything that we can with state-level authority,” Baker said.

The signing comes in the midst of Massachusetts’ temporary emergency order banning all vaping products, regardless of flavor.

The emergency order, which also includes a temporary ban on marijuana-based e-cigarettes, was instituted following a nationwide spate of vaping-related illnesses, in which 278 Massachusetts residents are suspected to have suffered pulmonary injuries from e-cigarettes. Of those 278 residents, three died.

Baker announced that the emergency order, set to expire next month, will be extended until December 11 to allow time to roll out the restrictions he signed into law.

Vaping age raised

The Vapor Technology Association, an industry group of vaping manufacturers and retailers that has sued Massachusetts and other states over executive orders banning flavored vaping devices, called the ban “the wrong policy.”

“Bans don’t work, they never have,” Tony Abboud, VTA’s executive director, said in a statement to CNN. “A ban will drive people back to combustible cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., or lead to illegal sales with a new and larger black market. VTA stands ready to continue working with Massachusetts on effective regulations and real solutions that will achieve the twin goals of restricting youth vaping, which is already illegal, and preserving flavored vapor as an alternative for adult consumers desperately trying to quit smoking, without ruining the livelihoods of the workers that the state’s regulated nicotine-vapor products industry employs.”

Abboud added that the group supports efforts to raise the age for vaping to 21 nationwide. Massachusetts raised the statewide age to 21 last year.

State Rep. Danielle Gregoire, a Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor in the Massachusetts House, told CNN that the legislation was a response to the data on youth tobacco use.

The legislation landed on Baker’s desk last week after gaining support in both houses of the state’s legislature.

“Right now, kids don’t smoke,” Gregoire told CNN last week. “It’s not cool, it’s not socially acceptable. But they’ve been led to believe that this device they’ve been handed is safe, when that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey, just under 21% of high school students nationwide reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, a 78% increase over the previous year. The CDC estimates that, across the country, over 5 million middle and high school students are currently using e-cigarettes.

Among high school vapers, 68% reported using flavored e-cigarettes.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy told reporters Wednesday that restrictions on flavor was key to curbing youth vaping.

“I was at a middle school not too long ago and every hand went up when I asked them, ‘do you know somebody who vapes in your school?'” Healy said. “We’re talking about young, young people. Eighty percent of those people will tell you they would not have started vaping were it not for flavors.”

“That’s why you see these ridiculous flavors like cotton candy, and sour patch kids, and all these other things that appeal to young people,” said Healy.

The Massachusetts law is notable in its prohibition of menthol cigarettes, a first for statewide legislation.

A similar bill working its way through the Illinois General Assembly dropped a provision to ban combustible menthol cigarettes earlier this year during its amendment process.

Flavored traditional tobacco products — snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and menthol cigarettes — will be legal to sell in Massachusetts until June 1, 2020.