A vote could come within the next month on legislation aimed at curbing youth tobacco and e-cigarette use, House Speaker Robert DeLeo suggested Tuesday as advocates met with lawmakers to make their case for quick action to ban flavored tobacco.
A day after a Superior Court judge allowed the Baker administration’s temporary ban on vaping product sales to stay in place for at least another week, DeLeo said that vaping is an “evolving issue” and that he hopes lawmakers use the coming weeks to “take a more comprehensive look beyond just a plain vaping ban.”
The Legislature and Governor Charlie Baker last year raised the age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21, and banned the use of e-cigarettes in places where traditional smoking is prohibited. A bill (H 4089) that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products is now pending before the House Ways and Means Committee, after earning endorsements from the Health Care Financing and Public Health committees.
“I think that relative to vaping, and what I really support, probably primarily, is that hopefully sometime before we break this year, hopefully that’s going to happen, that we have to have a more comprehensive discussion going beyond the ban in terms of what the law’s actually going to be in the future,” DeLeo told reporters after speaking at an annual hearing on health care costs.
Under legislative rules, the last day lawmakers have to hold formal sessions this year — before a recess that will run into January — is Nov. 20.
“With the governor’s ban, and the uncertainty that the courts brought about yesterday, a long-term solution is needed, so we’re hoping that the Legislature, before they leave for the holiday break, will take this up and not wait until they get back just because of the uncertainty of the lawsuit,” Marc Hymovitz, of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, told the News Service.
Responding to a national outbreak of lung illnesses linked to vaping, the Baker administration on Sept. 24 imposed a four-month ban on all in-store and online sales of vaping products. That ban has since been challenged in court. A judge’s ruling on Monday that allowed the ban to stay in place for a week but required that changes be made going forward — and an appeal of that ruling — created new questions over how long the restrictions will last.
Baker on Tuesday morning said the ban was launched “to put a pause on the market and to give legislators, regulators, data scientists, health care professionals and others a chance to try and figure out just what exactly was going on here.” He said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not yet feel they know enough about the epidemic to make recommendations to regulators.
“I certainly believe that part of this is going to require legislation, and I appreciate the fact that the House and the Senate have talked pretty seriously about wanting to move quickly on something on that issue, maybe before the end of the session,” he told reporters.
The flavor ban bill pending in the House Ways and Means Committee, based on legislation filed by Representative Danielle Gregoire and Senator John Keenan, would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts — including those with mint or menthol flavors — except in adult smoking bars. The ban would extend to flavored e-cigarette products as well.
Tobacco Free Mass Chair Dr. Lauren Smith said flavors can encourage kids to start and keep smoking. She said a menthol prohibition is particularly important because menthol is “not just a taste.”
“It has a physiologic effect on your throat and your breathing passages so that it numbs it a bit and makes it easier to take deep inhalations, so it makes it less harsh,” she said. “For folks who are trying cigarettes for the first time, it’s often a pretty unpleasant experience, but menthol takes the edge off of that so it’s easier to get started and it’s also much harder to quit.”