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No more menthol cigarettes: New ban on tobacco, vape flavours

BOSTON — Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale of flavoured tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes, after the Republican governor signed a bill Wednesday that responds to recent deaths linked to e-cigarettes and attempts to reduce their appeal to young people.

Anti-smoking groups hailed the ban signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, which outlaws the sale of flavoured vaping products immediately and of menthol cigarettes starting June 1, 2020.

Some states have temporarily banned or restricted flavoured tobacco or vaping products to different degrees, but Massachusetts is the first state with a permanent ban in place, anti-smoking groups say. Especially notable is its ban on menthol, which is among the most popular flavours and has often been exempted from bans.

The bill is a “major step forward,” Baker said, but states can do only so much to address the public health emergency around e-cigarettes and other vaping products. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are the only ones that can address the issues comprehensively, he said.

President Donald Trump has promised for months to approve a national ban on most flavoured e-cigarettes. But in recent weeks his administration cancelled a planned announcement of a ban, and Trump has said he will meet with the vaping industry and medical professionals instead.

“It’s pretty clear there isn’t going to be a federal policy on this anytime soon,” Baker said Wednesday. “So in the absence of that, we had to act.”

The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, which had opposed the legislation, said in a statement the ban will disproportionately affect communities of colour and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Studies have shown menthol cigarettes are consumed disproportionately by young people and minorities, and anti-tobacco groups and health experts have argued menthol has been marketed in particular to African Americans.

The law’s new restrictions on flavoured tobacco products are important because they have helped the traditional smoking market grow and led to the flavoured vaping products popular with youths, state Attorney General Maura Healey said.

“This is not a nanny state effort,” said Healey, a Democrat. “This is a significant public health effort.”

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network said it hoped the new law would send a message to an industry accused of using flavoured products to introduce teenagers to smoking.

“More than 80% of teens who have ever used a tobacco product started with a flavoured product, and the tobacco industry knows this,” the organization said in an emailed statement.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called it “a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavours to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction.”

The law places a 75% excise tax on vaping products and require health insurers, including the state’s Medicaid program, to cover tobacco cessation counselling.

The legislation responds to growing concern about the health effects of vaping products, including deaths whose exact cause is still being investigated.

In September, Baker had declared a public health emergency and ordered a temporary ban on the sale of all vaping products — flavoured and unflavored. Baker said Wednesday he’ll keep that ban in place until Dec. 11 while his administration drafts additional regulations.

Philip Marcelo, The Associated Press