Massachusetts lawmakers vote to ban flavored tobacco and tax e-cigs

A smoker is engulfed by vapours as he smokes an electronic vaping machine.

Tolga Akmen | AFP | Getty Images

The Massachusetts Senate has approved legislation banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and levying a 75% excise tax on e-cigarettes as state officials aim to curb a spike in underage vaping.

The bill, which passed in the state House earlier this month, would make Massachusetts the first state to ban menthol cigarettes, which anti-smoking advocates say are designed to appeal to children. It also would impose a steep 75% tax on e-cigarettes and improve access to smoking cessation programs.

Several states have enacted temporary measures to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but Massachusetts would be the first state to pass a permanent ban if signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

U.S. health officials have been struggling to combat a mysterious vaping lung disease that has sickened more than 2,100 and claimed 42 lives. The Trump administration announced plans in September to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, but federal officials have since wavered on those plans.

With the future of federal e-cigarette regulation uncertain, state Sen. John Keenan, who sponsored the bill that was approved Wednesday, said he hopes it will set a precedent.

“Our hope is that this bill will be a model for the rest of the country,” Keenan said. “By banning the sale of the flavored products known to attract kids, implementing an excise tax on e-cigarettes and expanding coverage for tobacco cessation, we are protecting future generations from nicotine addiction in Massachusetts.”

The Democrats have a majority in the state House and Senate.

Kaelan Hollon, spokeswoman for American tobacco company Reynolds American, said the company agreed that kids shouldn’t vape or smoke. 

“But today’s unfortunate decision to restrict otherwise legal adult products like menthol cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and flavored vapor products to local smoking bars does not solve for youth vaping,” she said in a statement, adding that it “instead has the unintended consequences of creating an illicit market for menthol cigarettes while also removing vapor alternatives from the market for adult smokers.”

Some Republican senators opposed the bill over concerns surrounding state tax revenue and the possible creation of an illicit market for flavored tobacco products that could be dangerous. Nonetheless, it passed with overwhelming support with a vote of 32 to 6.

“It’s time to stop tobacco companies from targeting and addicting kids with flavored products once and for all,” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said in a statement.

The bill will now be sent to a joint House and Senate session for approval, then sent to Gov. Baker, who has a history of supporting anti-smoking and anti-vaping legislation. He signed a bill last year that raised the state age for buying tobacco products to 21, and in September he declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts, approving one of the nation’s most comprehensive temporary bans on vaping products. That temporary ban is set to expire in December.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment after the Senate vote.

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