Snowstorms, bill filings, committee assignments, and a flurry of local regulations… it’s been a crazy few weeks!
- The governor cut the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program (MTCP) by over $100,000 in his version of the state budget. Last fiscal year, TFM advocates won a $500,000 increase for the program, funding the program at $4,218,872 for FY 2019. The governor proposed $4,117,730 for FY 2020. Budget conversations are already happening, so it’s time NOW to let House members know that MTCP should not only NOT be cut, but it should be funded at a much higher rate. We are asking all TFM organizations to reach out to the legislature and let them know we want them to increase funding in line item 4590-0300 to $8,250,000. This would bring the program’s budget back to its FY 2007 level. 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. Funding MTCP at $8,250,000 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.
- The Governor added an e-cigarette tax to the budget in an outside section, making his cut to MTCP seem a bit incongruous. Creating an excise tax for e-cigarettes is a way of stating that they are a problem, and MTCP is a vital part of the solution. The governor has proposed taxing e-cigarettes at 40% of wholesale, while we’d like to see them taxed at 75% of wholesale. Still, this is a great step because it opens the conversation to discuss the tobacco tax bill we support.
- The next step in the FY 2020 state budget process is for the House Ways and Means Committee to produce its budget. They’re currently working on it, so we need to make our voices heard NOW on e-cigarette taxes and MTCP budget!
Here’s what to do ASAP:
- Adapt the draft letter to say why your organization cares about these issues, and then put the letter on your letterhead. ***The draft letter is attached to this email as a Word document.***
- Email it to the legislators who represent your organization’s area. OR send it to me and I will work with our advocate friends to make sure it gets to the right place.
- Please try to send the letter THIS WEEK (by March 15)—the earlier in the week, the better! Yes, this is a crazy deadline, but it will only take a few minutes to edit the letter and pop it on letterhead. The only variable is if you need to get approvals… If you have any questions, please let me know!
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.
- 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. But wait! How does this bill differ from what the Governor proposed? And that other bill from Rep. Vargas, Sen. Cyr, and Rep. Garlick? The others are only e-cigarette taxes, while this one includes cigarettes and cigars as well. Take a look at the e-cigarette tax comparison chart attached to this email for other differences and the full side-by-side.
- 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.
- Although it’s not one of Tobacco Free Mass’ stated priority issues, Representative Lori Erhich’s tobacco bill, An Act relative to tobacco premium ratings (HB 964), would prohibit insurers from charging higher premiums for tobacco users. Current law provides for the Commissioner of the Division of Insurance to decide each year whether to allow tobacco as a rating factor. Tobacco Free Mass firmly believes that tobacco users should not be punished for an addiction started by, and made worse by, the tactics of Big Tobacco! Quite the opposite—we should ensure they have access to the evidence-based tools needed to help them quit.
We’re watching vigilantly for any efforts to preempt local authority on tobacco issues, including any efforts to undermine the statewide smoke-free workplace law. We’re ready to support any legislation that will help smokers quit, prevent young people from becoming addicted to tobacco and nicotine, and that will prevent exposure to secondhand smoke. Our priorities are the issues we’ll be concentrating our efforts on because we think they can make the most impact, we have the right support, and we think they have a good chance of passing.
We’ll send out information about the House Ways and Means budget when we have it, and we’ll keep you up-to-date in the months ahead!
- FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will leave the agency at the end of the month. He was an unexpected champion of restricting the sale of e-cigarettes, lowering the nicotine content of cigarettes, and banning menthol.
- Attendees of the full Coalition meeting on March 7 heard Melody Kingsley’s fascinating talk about her paper that showed the effectiveness of Massachusetts’ local policies restricting flavored tobacco to adult-only tobacco retailers. A pdf of the article in the BMJ’s journal Tobacco Control is attached, as are the slides of her presentation. Next up: a study to show how these local flavor restrictions impact young people in Massachusetts.
- The Attorney General’s office is actively monitoring online e-cigarette retailers. The AG kicked off February by sending a cease and desist letter to Kilo, forcing the company to stop selling its products online in Massachusetts. A story on WCVB (Channel 5) interviews high school students on the South Shore and gets their perspective on JUUL use in schools.
- A genetic variant found only in people of African descent significantly increases a smoker’s preference for cigarettes containing menthol, an FDA and NIH-funded study found. The variant of the specific gene is five to eight times more frequent among smokers who use menthol cigarettes than other smokers. A Perspectives piece in the New England Journal of Medicine gives a nice overview of the political maneuverings around menthol and the road ahead.
- We would be remiss not to keep you up-to-date on the latest trials of Doonesbury’s Mr. Butts, who ponders his relevance and meets his protégé in this strip.
- The Boston Herald’s article on MTCP funding floats the idea of using e-cigarette taxes to increase funding to the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program. Shoutouts to TFM members Kevin O’Flaherty of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Liz Hamlin–Berninger of the American Lung Association for their strong words on the subject!
Upcoming Tobacco Free Mass Meetings
The next full coalition and Advocacy Committee meetings are coming up soon! Remember that we’ve switched to alternating months for Executive and Advocacy committee meetings, so the meetings are less frequent.
- April 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
- June 6 – Full Coalition meeting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM – Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham
- June 6 – 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
- April 3 – Kick Butts Day celebration at the State House. If you haven’t been to Kick Butts Day, you’re missing out! In Massachusetts, Kick Butts Day is celebrated at the State House by about 200 members of The 84 Youth Movement from across the Commonwealth. The energy is amazing! The young people are involved in the speaking event, so it’s fun and lively. They visit legislators, and TFM members are invited—and encouraged!—to join in those visits. The only thing you’ll regret is that you weren’t this amazing in high school. If you can attend, even for a while, please do so—it will recharge you and remind you why this work is important!
- April 4 – Tobacco Control: Past Success and Future Challenges. April starts off with a Public Health Week Celebration at the Public Health Museum! TFM joins the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Coalition for Local Public Health, and the Public Health Museum to present a half-day event that explores how we in tobacco control have accomplished what we have so far… and how we’re going to hop the hurdles we now face. The topic was chosen partly because reducing smoking rates is a major accomplishment of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The event will also recognize DPH’s birthday; it turns 150 this year! Pretty old, but if DPH tried to buy a pack of cigarettes, it would still be carded! Well, it would if legislation filed this session passes. The event kicks off at 9:30 a.m. and concludes with lunch. More details to come!
- April 12 – Caring for Adolescents in Challenging Times. This full day conference will include sessions given by leading experts in the field on: substance use disorder screening, prevention, and evidence based treatments, concurrent mental health issues and trauma, the impact of social media, the role of the family, JUULing, vaping and marijuana. Presented byBoston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services at DPH. The conference is free, but registration is required.
- June 11 – Tobacco Free Mass Lobby Day. Save the date!
TFM Working Groups
- TFM’s E-Cigarette Working Group has distributed a form to help TFM members collect personal stories and photos that can inform the community and legislators about the impact of e-cigarette use on real people and communities. The draft is an attachment to this newsletter, and the group aims to create an online version to make it just a bit easier to collect stories on the go. The group is also working with pediatricians to share information and collect their stories. The E-Cigarette Working Group will announce its next meeting soon. If you would like to participate in the meeting or be a member of TFM’s 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 Tobacco Policies
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. The statewide youth prevention law that goes into effect on December 31 was brought about in large part because of the high number of local regulations banning tobacco sales in pharmacies, prohibiting use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free locations, and raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco from 18 to 21. Thank you to everyone who worked on those local regulations! Here’s what’s next…
Municipalities have been looking at ways to counteract the tobacco/vape industry’s efforts to make their products appealing to young people. Here are some examples of regulations that do so:
- Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco to adult-only establishments. This is one of the key statewide priorities discussed at the planning session earlier this month. This policy prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco products and flavored e-cigarettes, except for in qualified retail tobacco stores and “smoking bars.” 143 cities and towns have passed this policy, covering nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, at 62%. Three of these policies (Somerville, Needham, and Ashland) now include menthol as a flavor, and other municipalities are beginning to consider it. Anyone interested in the menthol issue should contact Chris Banthin and join the Menthol Working Group.
- A full 124 municipalities limit, or cap, the number of tobacco sales permits they will issue, covering 39% of the state’s population. Of these, five cities and towns also have a cap on the number of tobacco retailers 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. 12 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. 119 municipalities have passed this regulation, covering a third (34%) of the state’s population.
Information about local policies can be found on the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program’s website, MakeSmokingHistory.org.
We lost two tobacco control champions in February. Many of you may have worked with Bob Mehrman, and nearly everyone has heard him speak. After a laryngectomy in 1990, he turned his extensive broadcasting skills toward tobacco prevention. He was a warm presence who was willing to hop into nearly any situation and share his story. He spent years as a spokesperson for MTCP and also represented the American Cancer Society. His obituary outlines his remarkable life.
Christy Fedor, a smart, dedicated MTCP staffperson for well over a decade, passed away after several years battling breast cancer. Christy’s major contribution to tobacco control was her work overseeing the FDA compliance check program. Her talents and attributes shaped the program; her ability to notice details while not losing track of the big picture enabled her to set up an orderly system for ensuring retailer compliance with tobacco laws. Her warmth and caring enabled her to make the program realistic and to ensure the people who worked for her felt as invested in the work as she did. She was a fantastic colleague who always had a new story about her two young sons. Christy was a core part of the MTCP team, though her influence extended across the country as her program design was replicated and her advice sought by colleagues from other states. Although she was based in the western part of the state, she was very much a presence in MTCP’s Boston headquarters and knew the field staff very well. She will be missed by all of us. You can write a note to her family on her memorial page.
With the snow cementing into grimy ice sculptures, it’s easy to forget why you live here in this dreary state. So take a minute and be grateful for the contributions Bob and Christy, and so many others, have made to tobacco prevention and cessation here in Massachusetts and think about how they’ve propelled us forward. Then pop on the Modern Lovers’ RoadRunner, take a deep breath, and get ready for the next great thing.