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Tobacco

Massachusetts Moves Closer to Banning Menthol Cigarettes

Senate approves bill in late-night vote on flavored tobacco products
Photograph: Shutterstock

BOSTON In a late-night session, Massachusetts senators passed a measure that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including a substantial part of the convenience-store business in menthol cigarettes, The New York Times reported.

The measure must return to the state House of Representatives for reconciliation, but if approved, the bill would go to the desk of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for signature before becoming law, the newspaper said. While Baker has not said he would sign it, he recently led a statewide charge to ban electronic cigarettes, using an executive order to prohibit the sale of all vaping products. That ban is set to expire in December, the Times said.

In recent months, several governors have issued flavor bans on vaping device sales after reports of illnesses and deaths related to use of the products. The Massachusetts bill would reportedly be the first legislative action regarding menthol. Federal lawmakers are also moving on flavor bans that include vaping products and menthol cigarettes.

The Massachusetts bill, which the state Senate passed Nov. 20, would ban flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products; impose an excise tax on e-cigarettes; require insurers to cover tobacco cessation counseling and nicotine replacement therapies such as gum and patches; and would restrict higher-level nicotine products to 21-and-over stores, the paper reported.

“Menthol and mint tobacco is a billion-dollar market in Massachusetts,” said Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, Stoughton, Mass. “A billion dollars in market demand does not disappear because Massachusetts chooses to ban it. Instead, that demand will absolutely find markets, but now instead of being in the licensed, regulated, taxed market, it will now be in the illicit market, the online market, and it will go over our borders, especially to New Hampshire, which stands to gain a windfall in tax revenue.”

“This is a public health issue, but it’s really about justice,” said Jon Santiago, a Democratic lawmaker who spoke to the Times. He represents parts of Roxbury and the South End and is also an emergency physician at Boston Medical Center. “We believe this bill ultimately will protect generations of black and brown youth for years to come.”

Earlier in the fall, 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.

“Massachusetts convenience stores are too often taken for granted,” Shaer said in a press release about the rallies. “Throughout the state, these stores provide the products and services their neighbors need when they need them most and are responsible for the collection and remittance of a significant amount of the state’s tax revenue through the sale of items such as gasoline, lottery and tobacco.”

Rally organizers also pointed out that Massachusetts c-stores have a 95% U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliance rate with underage stings.

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