A Massachusetts House that is given to foot-dragging responded to the vaping crisis with admirable alacrity Wednesday, passing a bill that among other provisions banned the sale of all flavored vaping and tobacco products. We urge the Senate to act quickly as well.
The sudden and unforeseen emergence of a vaping-related health crisis that has claimed 40 lives, three in Massachusetts, and caused an estimated 2,000 injuries, most of them to the lungs of users, has demanded a response from government. Governor Baker's in-state ban on the retail sale of vaping products has been in and out of the courts following challenges by the vaping industry. Legislation will boost this effort, and while there were predictable attempts to refer the bill, which was only crafted over the Veterans Day weekend, to committee where it would wallow indefinitely, the House passed it by a vote of 126-31.
Flavored products are particularly popular with the young, and significantly, the bill bans all flavors, including mint and menthol, which the retail industry has opposed on the grounds that it would cost them adult customers. If this ban also encourages smokers to quit smoking — and find help in doing so — then all the better. If passed, Massachusetts would become the first state to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products according to the American Cancer Society, and Massachusetts should be proud to add this measure to its list of pioneering health- and social-related accomplishments. We urge the Senate and the governor to back the ban on mint and menthol.
For reasons that were unclear, the House last summer rejected a proposal by Gov. Baker to impose a 40 percent vape excise tax to discourage people from picking up the habit. The House bill includes that provision, with 30 percent of the revenue targeted for a trust fund to help communities institute substance abuse prevention measures. Last summer, the Senate approved a 75 percent excise tax on the product, so while the percentages will have to be reconciled it is clear that a final bill will include an excise tax that the governor will approve.
In response to the dubious claim of advocates that vaping helps smokers kick the habit, the House bill requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover tobacco cessation counseling and nicotine cessation therapy. Retailers that don't comply with the ban risk having their lottery sales licenses suspended. While the bill does not specifically address marijuana vaping, the Cannabis Control Commission had ordered a "quarantine" on all oil-based vape products until it is determined if they are contributing to the vaping injuries and deaths.
Preventing Big Tobacco from hooking new generations of users requires constant vigilance on the part of medical professionals and elected and appointed government officials. The House has done its part with this comprehensive bill accomplished in response to a growing crisis.