BOSTON - A proposed bill would outlaw the sale of flavored tobacco - whether in cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars or vaping products - in the state of Massachusetts.
The state would become the first in the country to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol. The bill also proposes imposing a new 75% excise tax on nicotine vaping products.
Already approved by the House, passing by 127-31, the legislation now needs to be approved by the Senate until it finally lands on the governor's desk.
"It’s about time," said Cynthia Loesch-Johnson, President of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council. "Menthol should have been included in other flavored tobacco conversations but historically it’s just been left out."
Loesch-Johnson says the fight against flavored tobacco, especially menthol is nothing new for her community.
"We know the tobacco industry has historically targeted African American communities," said Loesch-Johnson. "So we need to protect all communities which means we need to include minty menthol products in all flavor bans."
Sponsors of the bill say the fight against smoking tobacco was nearly won, until vaping became popular. They say the flavors incentivized young people to start smoking again.
According to bill supporters, more than 80% of teens who have used a tobacco product started with a flavored product.
From 2011 to 2018, e-cigarette use has increased from 1.5% to 20.8% among high school students.
Convenience store owners recently rallied against the proposed ban, closing their shops for one day to propose what they say will be a huge economic blow.
Under the proposal, commercial health insurers and MassHealth would be required to cover tobacco cessation counseling and all nicotine replacement therapies. Generic versions would be offered without cost-sharing to the consumer.
Supporters of the bill say their goal is to protect young people from the harmful effects of tobacco.
The ban on the sale of flavored vaping products could go into effect as soon as the bill is signed. The ban on menthol cigarettes would not go into effect until June 1, 2020.
A national outbreak of vaping-related lung diseases has sickened more than 2,000 people and killed 39, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three deaths have been reported in Massachusetts.
Recent studies have pointed to solvents and chemicals added to black market vape products, specifically vitamin E acetate, as a primary culprit behind the vaping-related illnesses and deaths.
The American Medical Association on Tuesday called for an immediate ban on all electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.
The AMA cited a surge in underage teen use of e-cigarettes, which typically heat a solution that contains nicotine.
“It’s simple, we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people.” Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA’s president, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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