Mass. lawmakers vote to ban flavored tobacco, tax vaping devices

Lawmakers in Massachusetts passed a comprehensive set of tobacco controls early Thursday morning that, if signed into law, will make the state’s tobacco laws among the toughest in the nation.

The bill, which made it to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk after midnight, passed both houses of the state legislature with widespread support — 32-6 in the state Senate, and 127-31 in the state House of Representatives. A final version reconciled between the two chambers passed the House 119-33.

The bill would outlaw any flavored tobacco products, including mentholated cigarettes and flavored nicotine-based e-cigarettes, and put a 75% excise tax on non-flavored e-cigarettes sold in the state.

Proponents of the bill described it as an effort to curb youth tobacco use.

“For too long, big tobacco has targeted our kids with flavored products,” State Sen. John Keenan, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday. Keenan was the state Senate’s lead sponsor of the legislation. With the move, he said, “we are telling big tobacco their days of hooking kids in Massachusetts are over.”

Vapor Technology Association, an industry group of vaping manufacturers and retailers that has sued Massachusetts and other states over executive orders banning flavored vaping devices, disputes that the industry targets children. The group says it supports efforts to raise the age for vaping to 21 nationwide.

State Rep. Danielle Gregoire, a Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor in the Massachusetts House, told CNN that the legislation responded to the data on youth tobacco use.

“Right now kids don’t smoke,” Gregoire said to CNN Thursday. “It’s not cool, it’s not socially acceptable. But they’ve been led to believe that this device they’ve been handed is safe, when that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

According to the CDC’s most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey, just under 21% of high school students nationwide reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, a 78% increase over the previous year. The CDC estimates that across the country, over 5 million middle and high school students are currently using e-cigarettes.

And among high school vapers, 68% reported using flavored e-cigarettes.

The law would also require insurance coverage for smoking cessation products.

The Massachusetts bill is notable in its prohibition of menthol cigarettes, a first for statewide legislation.

A similar bill working its way through the Illinois General Assembly dropped a provision to ban combustible menthol cigarettes earlier this year during its amendment process.

Gregoire said Thursday that the menthol ban was meant to keep children from switching to traditional cigarettes after the e-cigarette ban goes into effect.

Gov. Baker has 10 days to veto the bill before it becomes law. Asked if Baker planned on signing the bill, Terry MacCormack, a spokesperson for the governor, said that Baker “will carefully review the final legislation on his desk.”

If it becomes law, the bill will immediately ban flavors for vaping devices. Flavored traditional tobacco products — snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and menthol cigarettes — will be legal to sell until June 1, 2020.

The law comes in the midst of Baker’s executive order banning all vaping devices regardless of flavor, including both nicotine- and marijuana-based devices. That ban is set to expire next month.