April saw movement on the state budget here at home and interesting tobacco news nationally. Hang on! We're just getting started...

  • Budget for the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program (MTCP): In the wee hours of this morning, the House voted to approve an increase of $500,000 to the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, bringing the budget line to $5,618,793 for FY 2022. Now we turn our attention to the Senate! I'll send out an alert next week with actions to take. One will be thanking the House--it's worth noting that the House has originated all of the increases to the program over the past few years.

You may remember that the governor had proposed a cut of half a million dollars, so this is an increase of a million dollars over the Governor's proposed FY 2022 budget. In a year of continued uncertainties, this is a resounding affirmation!

In other good news, no amendments were filed in the House budget that would weaken the menthol provision of the new law, preempt local public health from working on tobacco, or criminalize youth possession of tobacco.

  • Cigarette and Cigar Tax: Sen. Hariette Chandler and Rep. Marjorie Decker filed bills that would increase the cigarette tax by $1.00 and increase the cigar tax from 40% to 80% of wholesale. Increases in tobacco prices through taxes have been shown to decrease tobacco use, especially among young people.
  • Closing MassHealth cessation benefit loophole: Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Christine Barber filed bills that would expand access to tobacco cessation counseling by allowing new categories of professionals to bill MassHealth for tobacco cessation, including dentists, behavioral and mental health counselors, and certified tobacco use cessation counselors.

    FDA announces it will ban menthol cigarettes and cigars

    Over the past week, alert readers have seen many headlines from The Hill, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other media outlets predicting that the FDA would ban menthol cigarettes--and it did!  Well, it said it plans to.  The FDA's decision sets in motion a process that will take several years and will undergo many lawsuits from the tobacco industry.  The FDA went a step further by deciding to also ban menthol cigars, many of which are nearly indistinguishable from menthol cigarettes. The agency stopped short of banning other menthol products, including menthol e-cigarettes.

    Why does this matter in Massachusetts? We've already prohibited the sale of menthol tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and all other tobacco products.  On a practical level, because these products are for sale elsewhere in the country, some of them end up here.  But more importantly, we know that menthol tobacco products are tools of racist targeting and result in major health problems for Black communities, and it's just wrong. TFM released a statement calling on other states to end menthol targeting now, and not to wait for the FDA's rules to take effect.

    One piece that avid tobacco watchers thought might be included in the FDA's announcement--but wasn't--is the proposal to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. It's likely that it's not the last we'll hear of this idea, or of others, as our friends at the Public Health Advocacy Institute pointed out in an opinion piece in the Globe.

    The Citizen Petition that finally spurred the FDA to action is publicly available. It's worth reading and sharing--it explains the history and impact of menthol tobacco in America. Our heartfelt thanks go out to all of the organizations that kept up the fight--including many who are members of Tobacco Free Mass--and the National African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the Center for Black Health and Equity, who have helped us with our work here in Massachusetts. This decision is a strong first step, and we're ready for the journey!

    News you can use

    • "America Ruined my Name for Me" is a complex and fascinating look at how one woman dealt with anti-Asian undercurrents and other people's expectations.
    • The World Health Organization has released a new technical manual on tobacco tax policy that focuses on tobacco taxes as a way to cut the $1.4 trillion in health expenditures and lost productivity due to tobacco use worldwide.

        Local Action

        Wondering what kind of impact local flavored tobacco restrictions are having? This study looks at impact of local flavored tobacco restrictions on the availability of those products in the retail environment across Massachusetts.  Another study examines the short-term impact of a flavored tobacco restriction on youth use of, and access to, the products in two Massachusetts communities. Both of these studies (and many more!) were produced by epidemiologists at MTCP, another great reason we fight to fund the program!

        And don't forget that the Sample Regulation Restricting the Sale of Tobacco and Vape Products has been updated for 2021!  This is the guidance document for cities and towns looking to improve their tobacco control policies, and it lends insight into what can be done at the municipal level.  If your city or town is interested in updating its tobacco sales regulations, free technical assistance is available.  Please contact DJ Wilson for more information.

        Membership Dues

        It's that time of year again!  Tobacco Free Mass membership dues notices will be sent to you over the next week. Tobacco Free Mass receives the vast majority of its support through membership dues; the rest comes from event sponsorships, occasional small grants, and donations. Your contribution enables us to be independent, outspoken advocates for tobacco cessation and prevention. We are using a new semi-automated system, so please pardon any glitches! If you have any question about your membership dues, please contact Gwen Stewart.

        Upcoming Tobacco Free Mass Meetings

        Can't wait to see you at our upcoming meetings! Remember, we'll meet remotely for the foreseeable future.

        June 4 – Full Coalition meeting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM on Zoom. To attend the meeting, you must register, which you can do with this link.

        June 4 – Advocacy Committee meeting immediately following the Full Coalition meeting, from 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM on Zoom. To attend the meeting, you must register, which you can do with this link.

        Download TFM's Meeting Calendar for 2021

        It's really Spring!

        With its strange and wonderful mix of summer and winter days, spring in New England can be a time warp. But there are enough gorgeous days to cure us of our languishing, if only for a little while. May you have many of those days this month!


        Gwendolyn Stewart

        Executive Director

        m: (617) 500.3449


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