Mass. Bill to Ban Sale of Flavored Tobacco Moves to Senate

With an overwhelming vote of 126-31, the Massachusetts House passed a bill to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products and implement a 75 percent excise tax on the wholesale price of e-cigarettes on Wednesday. If passed by the Senate, the bill will make Massachusetts the first state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. 

The vote came almost 16 months after Governor Charlie Baker signed a law in 2018 raising the tobacco buying age from 18 to 21 in an effort to curb youth smoking, and less than two months after he declared a public health emergency to temporarily ban all vape sales, a prohibition set to expire in December. 

“Today, we are clearly communicating to big tobacco companies that while you stole the health and well-being of our parents and grandparents, you cannot have our children,” said Representative Marjorie Decker on the House floor.

In anticipation of state legislation like this and the increasing possibility of a federal ban, last Thursday, Juul Labs—the nation’s largest seller of e-cigarettes—announced that it would stop selling mint-flavored pods, which have become especially popular among teenagers. 

Lawmakers estimate that the excise tax will produce between $10 to 15 million per year, and an adopted amendment offered by Representative Andres Vargas calls for 30 percent of the revenue to be used for substance abuse prevention. The bill also requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover tobacco cessation counseling and nicotine replacement therapy, all while expanding penalties for illegal tobacco sales. 

Opponents of the bill, including Representatives Brad Hill and Sheila Harrington, raised concerns as to how the bill would affect state revenue and local retailers. Both voted against the bill. 

The bill now awaits Senate confirmation. In a statement to the Globe, Senate President Karen Spilka said she hopes to see a vote before both branches end session on Nov. 20.

Featured Image by Timmy Facciola / Heights Editor