BOSTON –Wednesday evening, the Massachusetts Senate passed landmark legislation to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. In the wake of widespread increases in youth vaping, this bill offers a comprehensive approach to protecting young people from nicotine use and addiction. The bill, An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol; institutes a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes and e-liquids; and expands health coverage for tobacco use cessation products and counseling.
“For far too long, Big Tobacco has targeted our kids with flavored products,” said Senator John Keenan (D – Quincy), lead sponsor of the legislation to ban flavored tobacco products. “By banning the sale of the flavored products that attract young people, implementing a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes, and expanding coverage of cessation treatment, we are telling Big Tobacco their days of hooking kids in Massachusetts are over. Hopefully, this effort will serve as a roadmap for the rest of the country. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature in passing this landmark legislation.”
“I would like to thank Senator John Keenan for his diligent work on moving this issue forward, including his tireless efforts to educate his Senate colleagues and members of the public,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D – Ashland). “While we continue to learn more about the dangers of vaping, it is absolutely our responsibility to prevent marketing of vaping products, which we know to be harmful, to our children. We must also make it less appealing for young people to take up smoking, which often leads to a lifetime of addiction, serious health consequences, and death. By increasing access to smoking cessation programs, the Senate is reaffirming its commitment to our residents in their efforts to quit smoking and tobacco products altogether.”
“Senator Keenan led the way in the Senate on this issue, and the result is a very strong bill that addresses vaping and tobacco use in the Commonwealth as the public health crisis that it is,” said Senator Joanne Comerford (D – Northampton), Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “Among the recent deaths from vaping was a woman from my district. The data has shown us just how to tackle this issue head on. We know that 81 percent of young people report that their first tobacco product was flavored. Today the Senate is meeting this epidemic with bold legislation, ensuring that the next generation can breathe easier.”
“Across the communities in our Commonwealth and especially in our high schools, youth vaping has reached epidemic levels, and it’s vital for the protection of our youth and of our public health that we ban the sale of flavored cigarettes and vaping products,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D – Winchester), Senate Chair of the Education Committee and past Chair of the Public Health Committee. “The predatory tobacco industry uses ‘fun’ flavors like mango and cotton candy, cheap prices and hip social media marketing to target our youth and hook them with a lifelong addiction to their harmful products.”
“When I was young, there was a concerted and twisted effort to hook as many young people as possible on cigarettes. I see that effort reborn today: different, but all too similar,” said Senator Harriette L. Chandler (D – Worcester), Senate President Emerita. “I am proud that the Massachusetts Senate has taken a stand for the public health of our youngest constituents. We will not allow our children to be abused by nefarious attempts to addict entire new generations to nicotine.”
“Massachusetts has led the way on tobacco use cessation for decades, but that success suffered a setback in recent years thanks to the emergence of vaping, leading to rising rates of nicotine addiction in young people,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D – Truro), Chair of the Committee on Substance Use, Mental Health, and Recovery. “The legislation we passed today puts the Commonwealth in the vanguard by banning the very flavored tobacco products designed by Big Tobacco to addict a new generation on nicotine. As someone who’s spent much of my career in public health, I am proud of the Senate’s leadership to prevent our youngest residents from ever getting hooked.”
While the Commonwealth has made significant progress in preventing youth smoking rates in the last two decades, youth use of e-cigarettes and vaping products has increased dramatically. The 2017 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey reported over 20 percent of high school students were currently vaping–a rate six times that of adult use. More recent reports put estimates on youth e-cigarette use closer to 27 percent.
An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control specifically targets the sale of flavored tobacco products because they have historically been used to attract young people. Flavored cigarettes were banned by the federal government in 2009 as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. However, that law did not apply to other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which come in over 8,000 flavors with youth appeal such as ‘gummy bear,’ cotton candy, fruit punch, mint and menthol.
The legislation, passed by the Senate today, bans the sale of all flavors, including menthol, for all tobacco products including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and snuff. Youth smokers remain the age group most likely to smoke mentholated cigarettes, and menthol smoking prevalence now exceeds non-menthol smoking prevalence among both young and young adult smokers.
“We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking an important step in protecting future generations of Massachusetts residents from a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” said Allyson Perron Drag, Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association in Massachusetts. “The easy availability of menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored hookah and kid-friendly, e-cigarette flavors is causing an increase in youth tobacco use of epic proportion. The removal of all flavors from all tobacco products is essential for reducing their appeal to our children. We thank Senate President Spilka, Senator Keenan, Senator Chandler, Senator Cyr, Senator Lewis, and Senator Comerford for their leadership in protecting all kids in the Commonwealth.”
“While Massachusetts has long been at the forefront in this area, thanks to the Senate’s action today, we are poised to lead the nation by passing legislation that would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, keeping these deadly products out of the hands of our kids,” said Marc Hymovitz, Director Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Massachusetts. “ACS CAN commends Senate President Karen Spilka, Senator John Keenan, Senator Harriette Chandler, Senator Julian Cyr, Senator Jason Lewis and their colleagues for taking this historic vote that will truly save lives.”
The bill also institutes a 75 percent excise tax on both e-cigarettes and e-liquids. Taxing tobacco products is a proven method of decreasing youth use and this bill will bring the sales price of e-cigarettes to near parity with cigarette prices.
The bill will expand health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation so that people have access to the products and counseling necessary to quit nicotine. The bill requires coverage of at least one cessation product without prior authorization for MassHealth, Group Insurance Commission, and private insurance members.
Further provisions regarding e-cigarettes and vape products were included in the bill to regulate this growing market, including: expanding oversight of the Department of Revenue to include e-cigarette retailers; limiting the sale of e-cigarette products with nicotine content higher than 20 milligrams per milliliter to adult-only stores; and establishing penalties for the illegal distribution of e-cigarettes.
Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remain the leading causes of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts. Each year, more than 9,300 people die from tobacco use across the state and smoking-related illnesses are responsible for more than $4 billion in annual healthcare costs to the Commonwealth.
Similar legislation was previously passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a final compromise bill was sent to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk early Thursday morning.