BOSTON - Some Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing for a statewide ban on flavored tobacco and vape products.
On Tuesday, they were joined by local teenagers and young adults who say the flavored vaping products are being sold to the detriment of an entire generation's health.
"Mint. That was my go-to," said former Juul user Matt Murphy.
Now a rising junior at UMass Lowell, Murphy says he got hooked on vaping in high school.
"Kids love these flavors. They seem innocuous but then you get that nicotine kick, you're hooked," he said.
Murphy says it took him two years to kick the habit. And he's not alone.
"They are attracting children and young adults at alarming rates. Twenty percent of high school students, and we believe that's a conservative number, are vaping," said State Senator John Keenan.
Keenan and State Rep. Danielle Gregoire say that's why it's time for Mass. to ban these products.
"We know that for every adult that picks up an e-cigarette device, six youth are getting their hands on it," said Gregoire.
They say vaping products are targeting youth in marketing and packaging like big tobacco infamously did with 'Joe Camel' decades ago.
"It’s exactly the same marketing tactics that were used last time and we should know better because we fell for it last time and we’re not gonna let it happen again," said Gregoire.
"Youth are honestly pretty vulnerable to this kind of stuff. They see something and honestly, they want it," said Holbrook High School senior Rachel Cohan.
The most popular vape maker Juul says its products are helping adult smokers get off cigarettes:
"We do not and will never sell flavors which are clearly targeted to youth…we stopped the distribution of our non-tobacco/non-menthol-based flavored pods to all traditional retail stores last year."
But ban advocates say it's not enough and they are asking fellow lawmakers to take action this session.
“I never thought we’d be here, but here we are. And, someone has to fight this fight," said Gregoire.
The lawmakers pushing this ban say yes, there are restrictions in place, but they're not working. If successful, Massachusetts would be the first state to pass this type of ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products.
Local shop owners say this legislation really won't fix anything. They say it doesn't address the issue of online sales. Some small business owners were also at the State House Tuesday saying a ban on flavored products won't keep kids from buying them online. They argue their stores are doing the right thing, checking IDs, but feel online sellers are falling short and this ban would give them an upper-hand.
"What we are saying, instead of going after the middle person, go after the online retailers first. Fix that big problem first. And then we can work on solving something after that," said Bridgewater shop owner Jenish Patel.
Retailer Juul says it uses strong third-party age verification to ensure online buyers are at least 21 years old.
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