Executive Director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, based in Stoughton; Needham resident
Prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco by licensed retailers in Massachusetts was an ill-conceived, excessive policy that has failed by every measure and should be repealed.
The focus of the law should be restricting all points of youth access to vape, including online and social sources, and curtailing the myriad flavors that make it so attractive to underage youth. Period. Yet, the governor signed into law a policy that goes well beyond vape to include menthol cigarettes and mint/wintergreen smokeless tobacco — both adult products — with consequences for the state, small businesses, and minority adults.
The enormous market demand and fierce loyalty of adult customers for menthol cigarettes was dramatically underestimated. Evidence of the policy’s failure is found plainly in cigarette excise tax figures reported monthly by the state Departments of Revenue. From June 1, when the ban took effect, through Oct. 31, Massachusetts sold 16.5 million fewer tax stamps — which are affixed to tobacco products to document taxes have been paid — than the same period last year, while New Hampshire and Rhode Island combined to sell 16.25 million more during those same five months in 2019.
Indisputably, flavored cigarettes are being purchased out of state and then brought back into Massachusetts for personal consumption or illicit market sales. The state is on pace to lose almost $150 million dollars in cigarette excise and sales tax revenue this year — a portion of which funds smoking prevention programs — at a time when the budget is severely strained by the economic collapse caused by COVID-19.
This ban is particularly unfair to businesses and residents in Gateway communities with large populations of African-Americans, who enjoy menthol cigarettes at higher rates. For many stores in these areas, menthol cigarettes sales represented upwards of 50 percent of total tobacco sales before the ban. It is acutely painful for store owners to know their customers are able to continue purchasing these legal products, but just not from them.
Massachusetts remains the only state in the country to have a flavor ban of this kind. It was overzealous when it was signed and it has failed. It’s okay to admit it then fix it.
Massachusetts Grassroots Manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society; Holliston resident
For years the tobacco industry has made efforts to appeal to kids and targeted communities through the promotion of flavored tobacco products, including menthol flavors. It is estimated the industry spent over $119 million annually promoting their deadly products here in Massachusetts.
Fortunately, kids and communities across the Commonwealth are now protected from this aggressive targeting thanks to a first-in-the-nation law that went into effect last June that keeps flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, off the shelves of Massachusetts stores.
Not only does this law help protect kids from starting on the path to a lifetime of tobacco addiction, but it protects population groups that we know Big Tobacco continually and intentionally targets with aggressive advertising campaigns and other predatory tactics, including Blacks, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community.
With 60 percent of cancer deaths in Massachusetts due to cancers associated with tobacco use, the impact on these communities targeted by the tobacco industry cannot be ignored — especially now with smoking a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19. The virus, itself, has taken a heavier toll on Black and Latino residents in Massachusetts.
By protecting future generations from the risk of deadly tobacco addiction, the Commonwealth not only ensures our kids and communities of color have a healthier future but helps us save some of the extensive smoking-related health care costs annually incurred by the state.
The availability of tobacco products with menthol, mint, and other flavoring is a powerful enticement for young people to start smoking. Keeping these products off the shelves here in Massachusetts will go a long way toward reducing tobacco use. We can do even more by continuing to invest in the state’s successful Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention program, which has been instrumental in educating residents on the law and helping current users quit while continuing to call out the systemic racism perpetuated by Big Tobacco in pushing menthol-flavored tobacco products.
Lawmakers can save thousands of lives in cities and towns across Massachusetts by protecting the laws we already have in place — the laws that have made the Commonwealth a leader in the fight against Big Tobacco.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.