Massachusetts ends sale of menthol and other flavored tobacco on June 1

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Contact: Gwendolyn Stewart, Director, Tobacco Free Mass

(617) 500-3449; gwendolyn.stewart@cancer.org

Massachusetts ends sale of menthol and other flavored tobacco on June 1

Law stops tobacco industry practice of targeting minorities and youth with flavored products.

On June 1, Massachusetts will end decades of predatory targeting by the tobacco industry as a law ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in the Commonwealth takes effect. This follows legislative passage of a bill last November to end the sale of these deadly products, tax vape products, and increase access to tobacco cessation medicine and counseling. The law applies to the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts retail stores and online. 

“My family and community have been expendable for the tobacco companies’ bottom line,” said Jason Boyd, a community organizer in Dorchester.  The tobacco and vaping industries have a long history of unfairly targeting specific groups of people with their deadly products.  They have used menthol products to target youth, the black community, the LGBTQ community, and the Latinx community. This cynical marketing strategy increased the use of menthol cigarettes and youth e-cigarette use, and therefore the concentration of chronic conditions in these same communities.

“These chronic conditions put people in these communities at increased risk of illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID 19,” said Lauren Smith, a pediatrician and Chair of Tobacco Free Mass.  “Massachusetts has acted to remove an injustice that is a root cause of many of the health disparities we see with COVID 19.”

“The harmful effects of menthol cigarettes on lung health are undisputed, and in the wake of COVID-19 we have seen how a compromised respiratory system weakens the ability of a person to fight the disease,” said Senator John Keenan, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “Decreasing the ability of the tobacco industry to target people with their dangerous products will have both short- and long-term positive impacts on public health. I applaud the Department of Public Health for moving forward to take these products off our shelves and bolstering cessation programs to promote a healthier Commonwealth.”

“I am so proud to have had the opportunity to work on this legislation,” said Representative Danielle Gregoire, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House. “As we celebrate the full implementation of the flavored tobacco ban in Massachusetts, I can’t help but think of the thousands of Massachusetts residents whose health will vastly improve.  We have taken a stand against the predatory practices of big tobacco and shown them that Massachusetts puts the health of our residents, especially our youth, above profits.”

Flavored tobacco products are known to attract young people, and menthol cigarettes are no different.  Over half (54%) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes.  In contrast, less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older use menthol.  The prevalence of menthol use is even higher among African American youth: seven out of ten African American youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.

“I remember right in Central Square, they were passing out Kool cigarettes, and a young man gave me two of the three-packs. It wasn’t about the age back then. Because it was free I took it and started smoking it, and I think gradually I started to get addicted to it,” said Valentino Robinson, a Deacon at Abundant Life Church in Cambridge who is now trying to quit smoking menthol cigarettes. “I wish they had something like that [the new law] when I was growing up, where if you are under a certain age you can’t buy cigarette products, especially the menthol cigarettes, since they are targeted at the Black community and the Brown community. I think this new law will save a lot of lives down the road.”

Menthol flavoring makes it easier for young people to start using tobacco because it hides the taste of tobacco and numbs the throat, hiding the natural irritation of smoking. This has a lasting impact; the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee found that young people who start smoking using menthol cigarettes are more likely to become addicted and become long-term daily smokers.

“Flavored tobacco, especially menthols, are strategically placed in areas of my community where people of color reside and has completely shifted paths of my peers,” said Tracy Das, a student and youth activist in Waltham.  “Seeing Massachusetts, my home, take initiative in removing the sale of menthol cigarettes is positive not only for future generations who look like me but in working to eliminate injustices today.”

“People of all ages are becoming aware of the addictive issues related to tobacco use and want to take control of their health,” said Dr. Maryanne C. Bombaugh, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “Research shows that African-American smokers are highly motivated to quit smoking and are more likely than white smokers to have made a quit attempt in the previous year.”

As part of the new law, Massachusetts residents are entitled to receive free medicine and counseling to stop using tobacco products. Anyone thinking about quitting should talk with their doctor or learn more online at MakeSmokingHistory.org.

Flavored e-cigarettes, also known as “vapes” and “JUUL,” including mint and menthol flavors, have not been legal to sell in Massachusetts since the Governor’s emergency ban on the sale of vape products went into effect last fall. All other flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, will not be legal to sell in Massachusetts starting on June 1, 2020.  This includes online sales.

“We worked hard to ensure that it is not illegal to possess flavored tobacco products,” said Cheryl Sbarra, Senior Staff Attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.  “It will be illegal for stores and online sites to sell them.”  Stores violating the law face fines starting at $1,000 for the first incident.

In stopping the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, Massachusetts is ending decades of predatory targeting.  It’s one step toward improving health equity and giving everyone in the Commonwealth a fair chance at a healthy life.

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No Menthol. Know Why

Information about tobacco industry’s use of menthol to target specific communities.

NoMentholKnowWhy.org