Massachusetts snuffs out flavored tobacco products

Statewide regulations aim to diminish use of tobacco, vapes by young people.

Flavored vaping products like this have been banned under new state legislation.

Massachusetts is the first state in the country to permanently ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including vapes and menthol cigarettes, the State House News Service reported. 

Created to deter young people from becoming addicted to nicotine in all forms, the legislation recently signed by Gov. Charlie Baker also imposes a 75 percent excise tax on vaping products.

Although Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said that she thinks the ban will help cut down on youth access to nicotine, she also said tobacco and vapes are a “big moneymaker” for many businesses on the Island.

“I think, from a public health standpoint, the ban would make certain products be marketed less toward young people. But I can understand why some stores might be upset with the ban of these products,” Valley said. 

Although the temporary ban on all vaping products in Massachusetts will end on Dec. 11 (ahead of the originally planned date of Dec. 24), public health officials are set to adopt new, permanent regulations on that date.

Valley said Tisbury banned flavored vaping products in all stores besides adult-only establishments (21 and older) in an effort to diminish the number of Island kids and teens using vapes. 

“I totally understand that flavored tobacco is much more appealing to young people,” Valley said. She said she was recently in Cumberland Farms, and heard employees mention how people who would normally come in to buy vape products are now buying cigarettes. “This ban might put stress on local businesses, especially because of the menthol cigarette ban,” Valley said.

Catie Kerns, vice president of external communications for Xtra Mart parent company Global Partners, said in a written statement to The Times that they “will continue to comply with local, state, and federal laws related to flavored tobacco and vaping at all of our locations.” Xtra Mart has a store in Vineyard Haven on Beach Road.

“There is still a lot of emerging information regarding flavors and vaping, and we hope the state will look to pass legislation that protects minors, as well as our adult customers’ right to choose legal products,” Kerns wrote. 

Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, said in a release that he is proud Massachusetts is again at the forefront of tobacco use cessation. 

“This new law puts the commonwealth in the vanguard by banning the very flavored tobacco products designed by Big Tobacco to addict a new generation on nicotine,” Cyr wrote in the release. “As someone who’s spent much of my career in public health, I am proud of our state’s leadership to prevent our youngest residents from ever getting hooked.”

Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, said in an email statement to The Times that the legislation also requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover tobacco cessation counseling and nicotine replacement therapies, with generics offered at no cost to the consumer.

“More than 80 percent of teens who have used a tobacco product started with a flavored product such as mint or menthol,” Fernandes wrote. “In Massachusetts, smoking is estimated to cost more than $4 billion in direct healthcare costs.”

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Principal Sara Dingledy said the new legislation falls in line with the school’s ongoing efforts to reduce tobacco usage within the student body. “We took a lot of action last year, and made a lot of progress ahead of this ban,” Dingledy said.

Director of student affairs for the high school Dhakir Warren told The Times tobacco has already been marketed to kids for years, and now the state is imposing a large excise tax on all tobacco sales. But he said MVRHS and schools across the commonwealth need more funding to support health and wellness initiatives surrounding tobacco cessation.

“Our school is doing everything it can to prevent kids from using tobacco and getting addicted,” Warren said. “If this is a public health crisis and the government is going to be getting additional tax revenue, I think it’s time to provide towns, and schools in particular, with the necessary access to these resources.”

Warren said this legislation is a “step in the right direction.” but without a long-term plan to help kids who are already addicted, and provide counseling for students who are regularly exposed to tobacco, the change in policy is superficial.

“Where is the money to help kids? We are at a crisis point with tobacco use, and we need as much support as we can get,” Warren said.