Massachusetts Bans Menthol Cigarettes

Governor signs strict flavor ban, with more vaping restrictions to come
Photograph courtesy of the office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker

BOSTON Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law one of the nation’s strictest flavor bans of any state, including ending the sale of menthol cigarettes at virtually all retail settings and continuing a ban on all vaping products until state health department officials take up the matter in December, government officials said in a press release.

Passed by the state House of Representatives and the Senate earlier in the fall, the new law prohibits the sale of menthol cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, hookah tobacco, electronic cigarettes and vapor products. The law does allow, however, the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products at licensed smoking bars, but customers must consume what they buy on-site.

The governor also said his sales ban on all vapor products enacted this past fall will remain in effect until Dec. 11, when the state’s Department of Public Health will begin drafting new regulations on those products.

The new law also imposes a new tax of 75% of the wholesale price on electronic cigarettes, restricts the sale of vapor electronic cigarette products with a nicotine content greater than 35 milligrams per milliliter to adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars, and bans the online sale of flavored tobacco products to Massachusetts consumers.

Retailers also face new fine increases for selling tobacco products to minors. The fines had been $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation and $300 for a third violation. The new fines are significantly higher: $1,000 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second violation and $5,000 for a third violation.

The new law allows non-age-restricted stores such as convenience stores, service stations, grocery stores, liquor stores and corner markets to sell nonmenthol cigarettes, tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes and all other tobacco products so long as they do not have a “characterizing flavor.” 

The definition is as follows: " 'Characterizing flavor' is a distinguishable taste or aroma, other than the taste or aroma of tobacco, imparted or detectable before or during consumption of a tobacco product, including, but not limited to, a taste or aroma relating to any fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, menthol, mint, wintergreen, herb or spice; provided, however, that no tobacco product shall be determined to have a characterizing flavor solely because of the provision of ingredient information or the use of additives or flavorings that do not contribute to the distinguishable taste or aroma of the product."

Signed Nov. 27, the ban on the sale of flavored electronic cigarette and vapor products and the new fines on retailers for sales of tobacco products to minors went into effect that day.  The ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco products goes into effect June 1, 2020.

“In light of the growing health crisis associated with e-cigarettes and vaping, our administration implemented a temporary ban on the sale of e-cigarette and vaping products to provide time for legislative and regulatory bodies to better understand what's making people sick and act to protect the health of Massachusetts residents,” Baker said. “As we sign this new legislation implementing new restrictions on vaping and tobacco products, we are also keeping the temporary ban in place as the Department of Public Health develops permanent regulations that will ensure risks are known to consumers, clarify what interventions DPH can take to address clear risks identified by the developing science, and ensure sellers are not skirting the new law and selling to kids.”

“It is essential our young people have the opportunities to safely grow up in the Commonwealth, and we have made strides in the prevention of youth nicotine and taken bold action in the face of a growing, deadly public health risk,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “Today e-cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco by youth in Massachusetts. This legislation will further restrict the sale of nicotine containing products to minors, providing the opportunity for them to live healthy, safe lives.”

Earlier in the fall, Boston-area retailers organized two rallies to protest the measure, saying the moves would hurt their businesses and potentially force the closure of stores that service lower-income neighborhoods.

[Editor’s Note: CSP is accepting nominations for its Category Manager of the Year awards, which includes the tobacco and other tobacco products (OTP) categories, as well as the new category of cannabidiol, or CBD, products. The nomination period ends Friday, Dec. 13. Winners will be announced at CSP’s Convenience Retailing University 2020 conference to be held Feb. 18-19, 2020, in New Orleans. To submit a nomination, click here.]

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