No more menthol cigarettes: New ban on tobacco, vape flavors

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2014, file photo, a man smokes a cigarette on Main Street in Westminster, Mass. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to sign a law on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, banning sales of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes., File

On Wednesday, Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill meant to reduce the appeal of flavored tobacco and vaping products. The Bay State becomes the first state to ban flavored tobacco and nicotine vaping products, including menthol cigarettes.

The Massachusetts bill, the first of its kind in the nation, is meant to reduce the appeal of the products to young people amid a rash of illnesses and deaths linked to vaping. Older vapers are not immune from those same issues.

Anti-smoking groups immediately welcomed the ban, which restricts sale and consumption of flavored vaping products immediately and does the same for menthol cigarettes starting on June 1, 2020.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, hailed the Massachusetts law as a “major milestone in the fight to reverse the worsening e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from targeting and addicting kids with flavored products.”

At the same time, the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, which opposed the legislation, said it’s exploring challenging the new law in court or seeking other ways to change it.

A statement from the group noted that “Public health and safety has been dealt a blow by anti-tobacco crusaders exploiting a youth vaping crisis and by lawmakers bypassing prudent policy making.”

It truly stretches the limits of logical thinking that a response to a “youth vaping crisis” can, at the same time, deal a blow to “public health and safety.” A more accurate statement would have been that the new law dealt a blow to the pocketbooks of those selling the soon-to-be banned vaping products.

In recent months, Massachusetts and other states, including Michigan, Montana, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington, have temporarily banned or restricted the sale of vaping products. But Massachusetts becomes the first state with a broad, permanent ban in place on all flavored tobacco and nicotine vaping products.

The newly signed Massachusetts law specifically restricts sale of the products to licensed smoking bars, where they must be consumed on-site. The restriction extends to menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco. Unfortunately, the new law does not address how those regulations will be effectively enforced.

The new law also places a 75% excise tax on nicotine vaping products and gives public health officials new authority to regulate the products.

Baker said he hopes other states adopt similar restrictions but argued that the federal Centers for Disease control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are the only ones that can address the issue comprehensively for the nation.

President Donald Trump has promised for months to approve a national ban on most flavored e-cigarettes. However, and not surprisingly, in recent weeks his administration has walked back that promise, cancelling a planned announcement of a ban in favor of private meetings with the vaping industry and medical professionals.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network said it hoped the new law sends a message to the industry.

“More than 80% of teens who have ever used a tobacco product started with a flavored product, and the tobacco industry knows this,” the organization said in a statement.

Massachusetts’ newly signed law responds to growing concerns about the health effects of vaping products, including deaths, the exact cause of which is still being investigated. The state’s health officials say there have been more than 200 suspected cases of vaping-related lung injury and three confirmed deaths in the Bay State.

Given the lack of action by the Trump administration and federal health officials, other states, including Iowa, should follow Massachusetts’ lead.

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