Tobacco Free Mass Monthly Update — June 2019 Edition

MTCP Budget

The House increased the budget for the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program (MTCP) by $400,000 in line 4590-0300, funding the program at $4,618,872 for FY 2020.  The Senate budget includes an excise tax on e-cigarettes but cuts MTCP’s current budget by $100,000, essentially what the Governor had proposed.  The conference committee will reconcile the House’s proposal of a $400,000 increase to MTCP funding and the Senate’s proposal of a $100,000 cut.  The e-cigarette tax will also be up for discussion because it was included in the Senate proposal.  The Conference Committee is still hashing out the differences between the two sides and working to come to a consensus. They had hoped to be finished by the Fourth of July holiday, but that’s coming up pretty fast.

MTCP is critical to the fight against tobacco in Massachusetts. It implements and enforces laws, funds local boards of health and community organizations to do enforcement and education, runs the state’s quitline, produces materials educating about tobacco and nicotine, and provides surveillance and evaluation for tobacco issues, including the rise in e-cigarette use among young people. Strong funding for MTCP will allow the tobacco program to educate parents and other adults about e-cigarettes, Juul and other emerging products; provide more enforcement of local tobacco laws protecting youth; and work more effectively to help all smokers quit.

Status of Priority Legislation

  • Banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products.  Senator John Keenan and Representative Danielle Gregoire filed An Act regulating flavored tobacco products (Senate Bill 1279 and House Bill 1902, respectively).This priority bill would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Massachusetts. The ban would include flavored Juul and other e-cigarettes and vape products.  Menthol and other mint flavors are included in the definition of flavor.  In Massachusetts, many communities have already restricted the sale of flavored products to adult-only establishments (see Local Action section, below), and Somerville, Needham, and other communities have included mint/menthol/wintergreen in their restrictions.  Referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health.  A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 16th at 1:00.  TFM is assembling two panels to speak, but all are welcome to attend in support!  We will also send out a request for written testimony closer to the date.
  • Raising the cigarette tax and instituting an excise tax on e-cigarettes and vape products.  Senator Harriette Chandler and Representative Marjorie Decker filed An Act protecting youth from nicotine addiction (Senate Bill 1606 and House Bill 2436, respectively).  This bill would add an excise tax of 75% of wholesale to e-cigarettes, increasing their prices and making them harder for young people to afford. It would also increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.00, bringing it to a more reasonable $4.51, and increase the tax on cigars from 40% of wholesale to 80% of wholesale. Increasing the price of cigars and cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to help smokers quit and prevent kids from starting. History and evidence show that this will reduce the smoking rate, saving some of the more than $4 billion in health care costs annually attributed to tobacco use in Massachusetts. Referred to the Joint Committee on Revenue.  An amendment to the Senate budget that would have created an excise tax for e-cigarettes and given some of the revenue to MTCP did not pass.  The bill had a hearing on June 18, and many TFM member organizations sent in written testimony—thank you!  There are several other bills proposing taxes on e-cigarettes, and those were all heard that day, too.  We’ll let you know when we have an update on next steps.
  • Close the loopholes in the MassHealth tobacco cessation benefit. Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber have filed An Act to provide Medicaid coverage for tobacco cessation (Senate Bill 704 and House Bill 1129, respectively).  This bill seeks to expand access to the program by allowing trained and approved dentists and behavioral health practitioners to provide cessation counseling to patients on MassHealth as recommended by the CDC.  The MassHealth smoking cessation benefit was a huge success when it was introduced in Fiscal Year 2007, but certain providers, including dentists and behavioral health providers, were not included.  Closing the loophole would enable certified professionals in these fields to counsel, and bill for, tobacco cessation for their MassHealth patients. Referred to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, which held a hearing back in May.  Thanks to all the TFM members who submitted written testimony or spoke on behalf of the legislation!  We’ll let you know when the bill moves.

Preemption remains a threat, and as we gain momentum, that threat intensifies.  We’re watching vigilantly for any efforts to preempt local authority on tobacco issues and any efforts to undermine the statewide smoke-free workplace law.

The updated TFM Cheat Sheet on Legislation and Budget is attached to this email.  Save it and/or print it out so you can talk the talk in a pinch!

Interesting Articles tell the Story of an Action-Packed June

Tobacco Free Mass Membership Dues

Tobacco Free Mass has switched to a dues-based model, so your dues contribution is essential to allowing us to fight the good fight!  Your organization should have received its annual dues notice unless you have talked with me about having a different schedule.  Dues-paying members have voting rights and receive a ticket to the September Policy Forum, among other perks!  If I’ve received your check, you’ll receive a confirmation soon.  If you have questions or need more information before you can pay, please let me know! 

Upcoming Tobacco Free Mass Meetings

The next full coalition and Advocacy Committee meetings are coming up later this week!  Remember that we’ve switched to alternating months for Executive and Advocacy committee meetings, so the meetings are less frequent.

  • July 25 – Advocacy Committee meeting from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM at The Strategy Group’s offices at 40 Court Street, 11th Floor, Boston
  • August 22 – Executive Committee meeting from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM at The Strategy Group’s offices at 40 Court Street, 11th Floor, Boston
  • September 5 – Full Coalition meeting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM – Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham
  • September 5 – Advocacy Committee meeting from 12:15 PM to 1:15 PM (following full coalition meeting) – Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham

See the full calendar on our website, at tobaccofreema.org.

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

  • July 15Boston Public Health Commission is co-hosting an informational session to discuss potentially removing the exemption for menthol from its tobacco regulations. Two days later, on July 17, the Boston Board of Health will further discuss menthol regulations at its monthly meeting.  If you’re a Boston resident interested in attending either of these meetings, please let me know so we can coordinate and I can send you details.
  • September 24 – Tobacco Free Mass Policy Forum from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM; registration at 9:30.  Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham. Dues-paying TFM member organizations receive one or two free tickets!  This year’s policy forum will focus on flavor, and we’ve lined up some excellent speakers:  Valerie Yerger, Board Member at the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN), Phil Gardiner, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), and Brian King from the CDC.  This is guaranteed to be a fascinating discussion of a complex and nuanced topic that has a major impact on tobacco prevention efforts in our state.  Registration opens next week! 

TFM Working Groups

  • TFM’s E-Cigarette Working Group is revamping its focus and gearing up for its next meeting on July 30 from 10:00-11:30 at the Massachusetts Medical Society in Waltham.  If you would like to participate in the E-Cigarette Working Group but are not on the list, please email Annegret Klaua or Jonina Gorenstein, who are heading up the working group.
  • TFM’s Menthol Working Group is monitoring the movement of local regulations that restrict menthol sales. The group is contacting people who it thinks would be important to the menthol conversation in Massachusetts and starting to invite those people and groups into the discussion.  If you have thoughts on who the group should be reaching out to, are interested in joining the group, or would like to come to the next meeting, please contact Chris Banthin, who’s heading up the TFM Menthol Working Group.

Local Flavor (policies)

Tobacco policies passed on the local level build the case for statewide policy… and that they protect people who live, work, and visit those places.  This is very much the case for flavored tobacco regulations, and as municipalities work to restrict or ban the sale of menthol, they need community support.

Many communities have flavor restrictions in place that are based on Providence, RI’s model, which restricts the sale of all flavored tobacco products to adult-only tobacco stores.  These regulations *exempt* mint, menthol, and wintergreen. As the situation has evolved, many of these cities and towns are now removing the exemption for menthol, mint, and wintergreen, creating a restriction on *all* flavored tobacco products.  As communities tackle the flavor question and grapple with how to restrict e-cigarettes, different versions of this policy have emerged.  DJ Wilson created a handy sheet for sorting out this policy scramble; it’s attached as a pdf called Flavor Ban Chart. Note that the statewide legislation we support is a complete ban of all flavored tobacco, including mint, menthol, and wintergreen.

Tobacco Free Mass doesn’t work on local regulations, but the people that do asked if we would pass along a special request for letters and testimony at these local hearings.  If you live in one of these communities, please attend the hearing to speak if at all possible, or write a letter of support to the Board of Health if you can’t.  And if a friend or frenemy lives in one of these towns, please ask them to speak or write in!

  • Wrentham—July 8, 6:30 pm, Town Hall, considering a Limited Flavor Restriction. Contact Cheryl Sbarra if you can attend; otherwise, send a letter to the Board of Health.
  • Harwich—July 9, 6:30 pm, Town Hall, considering a total flavor restriction but may be nervous due to the tobacco companies’ recent lawsuit coupled with the fact that there has been active retailer presence at previous meetings. Support might help calm fears.  Contact Cheryl Sbarra if you can attend; otherwise, send a letter to the Board of Health.
  • Norfolk—July 16.  7 pm, Town Hall. Norfolk recently enacted a Limited Flavor Restriction and is discussing removing the exemption for mint, menthol, and wintergreen.  The recent lawsuit may chill this effort, but enough support might encourage them to remove the exemption anyway.  Contact Sarah McColgan if you can attend.  Otherwise, send a letter to the Board of Health.
  • Wareham—July 17, 4 pm, in Town Hall or in the town building across the parking lot, “un-exempting” menthol, mint, wintergreen AND entertaining getting rid of the Retail Tobacco Store exemption, which would effectively ban the sale of all flavored tobacco. Contact DJ Wilson if you can attend; otherwise, send a letter to the Board of Health.
  • Shrewsbury—July 26, 8 am, Town Hall, BOH hearing to discuss enacting the Limited Flavor Restriction (Providence Policy) and contemplating un-exempting menthol, mint, wintergreen. FYI:  Rep. Hannah Kane has been a supporter of this effort. Contact DJ Wilson if you can attend; otherwise, send a letter to the Board of Health.

Local Tobacco Policies

While you and I go about our fascinating daily lives, things are steadily changing on the local level.  Cities and towns across Massachusetts have been passing tobacco policies that fight the tobacco industry’s influence in communities and pave the way for statewide policy. Every month, a few more cities and towns pass laws, adding up to a substantial number! Here’s a sampling of what’s going on…

  • Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco to adult-only establishments. This is the backbone of the statewide flavor ban we’re trying to pass—and these local policies have shown that a statewide ban would work and be popular.  This policy prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco products and flavored e-cigarettes, except for in qualified retail tobacco stores and “smoking bars.”  158 cities and towns have passed this policy, covering nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, at 66%.  Twelve of these policies do not have an exemption for mint, menthol, and wintergreen for any tobacco products; other municipalities are in the process of removing the exemption or passing a flavor restriction with no exemption. 
  • A full 128 municipalities limit, or cap, the number of tobacco sales permits they will issue, covering 43% of the state’s population.  Of these, thirteen cities and towns also have a cap on the number of tobacco-only Retail Tobacco Stores they will allow.  This is stated in language such as: “This municipality limits tobacco sales permits to X number and of that X number, only Y number can be issued to Retail Tobacco Stores.”  When specific tobacco products, such as flavors, are restricted to adult-only tobacco retailers, the “Retail Tobacco Stores” are the stores the regulations refer to.
  • Prohibiting a new tobacco retailer opening within 500 feet of an existing tobacco retailer.  This policy cuts down on density issues—having a high concentration of tobacco retailers in one area.  Vape stores are considered tobacco retailers. 14 cities and towns have already passed this new regulation, covering 4% of the state’s population.
  • Prohibiting new tobacco retailers from opening within 500 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school. This policy addresses the issue of kids’ exposure to tobacco products and marketing, while also addressing issues of density.  122 municipalities have passed this regulation, covering a third (35%)  of the state’s population.

Information about local policies can be found on the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program’s website, MakeSmokingHistory.org

Man.  That was a lot of stuff.  Are you really still reading this?  Get up from your computer now and get outside!