The Boston Convenience Store Owners Association (BCSOA) and the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA) hosted a rally on Boston City Hall Plaza Wednesday morning to address the proposed ban of flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts.
On September 24, 2019, Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and enacted a four month statewide temporary ban on the sale of all vape products in Massachusetts. This sales ban, proposed to last until January 25, 2020, was Baker’s response to a recent outbreak of lung disease linked to vaping or e-cigarette products.
In response to the ban, three vape shops (Mass Dynamics, Boston Vapor, and Vick’s Vape Shop) sued the Baker administration; stating in their lawsuit that the companies are reliant on their sales of vaping and e-cigarettes “to meet the demands of daily living.”
Following this temporary ban, state Senator John Keenan, alongside others, sponsored a proposed bill that would ban flavored tobacco products. This flavor ban would include flavored e-liquids as well as menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products flavored with mint or wintergreen.
“Convenience store owners in Boston acknowledge the alarming youth vaping statistics and the need to address this issue,” stated Jon Shaer, Executive Director at NECSEMA, at Wednesday morning’s rally. “The Public Health’s approach to restrict all flavored tobacco products to vape shops including menthol cigarettes—products that have nothing to do with the vaping epidemic or vaping related illnesses—is nothing more than doubling down on failed policies and anti-tobacco opportunism.”
Quoting a statistic of 95.7% Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance rate for Massachusetts convenience stores, Shaer pointed out that vape shops (where he states flavored tobacco products will be moved to) only have a 66% compliance rate.
The proposed bill states that flavored tobacco products or enhancers would be illegal to sell outside of smoking bars where consumers would not be allowed to purchase flavored products to take home, enacting fines for those who violate the legislature.
Convenience stores make half of their profits from tobacco-related sales and owners fear that the proposed legislation would shutter many stores around the state. According to rally speakers, convenience stores play a vital role in providing affordable food care for those in their communities, especially those on WIC and SNAP. Representatives also insisted that convenience stores are crucial when it comes to enforcing youth access restrictions.
Some studies have found that vaping/e-cigarette companies have utilized marketing techniques that have targeted youth groups. Proponents of the flavor ban have argued that flavored tobacco products such as mango and other fruit flavors seem unlikely to be developed with the elderly in mind.
A study from a team of researchers with Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising suggested that JUUL, an e-cigarette company, oriented it’s marketing around young people. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that JUUL’s flash-drive-like shape and recent popularity was partially responsible for the increase in flavored e-cigarette usage among youths, stating that “these products can be used discreetly, have a higher nicotine content than earlier generation e-cigarettes, and are in flavors that appeal to youths.”
According to the CDC as of October 22, 2019, an estimated 1,604 cases of lung injury linked to e-cigarette or vaping use have been reported with thirty-four confirmed deaths. Within 1,364 patients with age data from October 15, 2019, 14% of patients were under 18 years old and 40% of patients were between the ages of 18 and 24 years old.
Proponents for the flavor ban argue that including menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in the bill would decrease the likelihood that teens addicted to vaping would fallback to those other readily available tobacco products. The Baker administration, alongside the temporary vaping ban, are also working on providing public resources with smoking cessation programs and awareness campaigns that target teen vaping.
“I’m not here to talk about smoking”, said Richard Marianos, former Assistant Director of US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, “I’m here to talk about crime because that’s what’s going to happen right now if we begin these flavor bans and we begin attacking the marketplace…If you look at what is happening in other cities like New York right now, where 78% of their tobacco is coming in from the black market, it’s not one bit safer and it’s not one bit less harmful…”
With the recent vaping epidemic sending thousands to the hospital with lung illnesses, tensions between retail shop owners and Boston city officials are high after Governor Baker’s temporary vaping ban and the subsequent proposed flavor ban. BCSOA and NECSEMA rallied in front of City Hall to demand that the Boston Public Health Commission adopt “sensible alternatives,” insisting that flavored tobacco products should remain within a regulated environment.