Health activists press ban on flavored tobacco, vaping products

  • A high school principal displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in such places as restrooms or hallways at the school in Massachusetts, April 10, 2018. AP PHOTO/Steven Senne

State House News Service
Published: 5/30/2019 4:36:45 PM

BOSTON – Ten months after Massachusetts became the sixth state to raise its tobacco-buying age to 21, Rep. Danielle Gregoire said she has “real hope” a ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products will pass this year or next.

Gregoire spoke at an American Heart Association of Massachusetts lobby day Thursday, urging advocates to share their personal stories with lawmakers.

The daughter of two smokers, Gregoire said her dad had a heart attack at age 37, had all the valves in his heart bypassed 10 years later, and had a stroke at age 51. She said she calls him “the bionic man” but that doctors at this point are reluctant to perform other health procedures he needs because of the age of his bypasses.

“When I talk to the speaker or the majority leader about the flavor ban bill, they say to me ‘Why is this so important to you?’ and then I talk about what I went through as a young child and what we’re putting a whole new generation of youth through if we don’t stop this predatory practice of e-cigarette companies,” said Gregoire, a Marlborough Democrat who co-chairs the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee.

Last July, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, a move supporters said would help keep tobacco products out of the social circles of younger teens.

This year, policymakers are eyeing approaches aimed at curbing e-cigarette access and use among young people.

Gregoire and Sen. John Keenan of Quincy filed bills (S 1279, H 1902) that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts. The federal government banned all flavors of cigarettes except mint and menthol in 2009. The bills here would also ban those flavors.

More than 160 communities in Massachusetts have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products in some way, according to Allyson Perron of the American Heart Association.

Perron said there are 8,000 different flavors of e-cigarettes on the market, and kids can end up getting addicted after first wanting to try flavors like appletini, creme brulee and cotton candy.

“I don’t even know if I could name 8,000 flavors,” she said. “As one of my colleagues said, there’s not even 8,000 flavors of ice cream. Why would there be 8,000 flavors of tobacco?”

Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday sued the New Jersey-based vaping product retailer Eonsmoke, alleging the company violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by using marketing and advertising designed to appeal to youth and for failing to verify the ages of online purchasers.

In addition to the flavor ban bills, lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker have also proposed extending the state’s tobacco tax to e-cigarettes and vaping products.

The six-person committee tasked with reconciling the different House and Senate budgets for next year will need to decide whether to include the vaping tax, which is featured in the Senate spending plan but left out of the House’s. Chaired by budget chiefs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, the panel was officially appointed Thursday and will formally begin its work soon.

With the promise of a broader revenue debate later this session, the House opted not to include new taxes in its budget. Bills before the Revenue Committee propose extending the tobacco tax to e-cigarettes and hiking the tax on packs of cigarettes and cigars.

Lawmakers raised the per-pack tax on cigarettes one dollar to $3.51 in 2013, and Perron said the association backs another one dollar increase.

“One of the reasons that we do tobacco taxes is because kids in particular are very price sensitive, and so if we raise the price up they will likely not start and it will encourage smokers to quit,” she said.




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