Friedman Votes on Bill to Ban Flavored Tobacco, Protect Youth from Nicotine Addiction

BOSTON – On November 20, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her legislative colleagues in passing legislation to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. The bill was later signed into law by Governor Baker on November 27, 2019.

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 successfully marketed its products to our children, leading to increases in tobacco use, serious health consequences, and a lifetime of nicotine addiction for many,” said Senator Friedman, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “The safety of our children is paramount, and it is our duty to take action to protect them from toxic substances found in flavored vaping products and other devices that keep them from leading healthy lives and focusing in school. I want to thank the students from my district who came to the State House to advocate for meaningful action on this issue. This new law is the product of their persistence and hard work, and we will have a safer and healthier Commonwealth as a result.”

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 Surveyreported 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 Controlspecifically 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 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. 

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.