New ban on tobacco, vape flavours in Massachusetts

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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are the only ones that can address the issues comprehensively, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised for months to approve a national ban in the U.S. 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.

Youth e-cigarette epidemic

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 per cent 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.”

A vitamin E acetate sample during a tour of the Medical Marijuana Laboratory of Organic and Analytical Chemistry at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, N.Y. Vitamin E acetate was commonly found in cartridges collected from a dozen U.S. patients. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

The law places a 75 per cent 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 unflavoured. Baker said Wednesday he’ll keep that ban in place until Dec. 11 while his administration drafts additional regulations.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, New York City lawmakers voted to ban flavoured electronic cigarettes after a lawsuit halted a statewide ban.

U.S. health officials said Tuesday they have more evidence that a certain chemical compound is a culprit in a  national outbreak of vaping illnesses.

Researchers analyzed illicit vaping cartridges seized in Minnesota during the outbreak this year, and vaping liquid seized in that state last year. The newer cartridges contained the compound vitamin E acetate, but none of the older samples did.

They also looked at vaping cartridges collected from a dozen patients. Vitamin E acetate was commonly found in those, too.

The study was small, but it echoes other work that found the compound in the damaged lungs of 29 patients across the country. 

 “The findings further support a potential role for vitamin E acetate in causing lung injury associated with vaping products,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a Minnesota health official.

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