Tobacco Free Mass Monthly Update — May 2019 Edition

Well!  May has been quite a month. Tons of talk about e-cigarettes, a hearing on MassHealth’s smoking cessation benefit, ups and downs with the MTCP budget process, and a Stanley Cup run.  Whew!

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 $4,718,872 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 next step in the FY 2020 state budget process is for the Conference Committee to hash out the differences between the two sides and come to a consensus.  The Conference Committee is made up of three senators and three representatives: Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senator Cindy Friedman, Senator Vinny deMacedo, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Rep. Denise Garlick, and Rep. Todd Smola.  We will send out an action alert later this week with suggestions on what you might say to your legislators to encourage them to talk with the Conference Committee members about MTCP funding.

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!
  • 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.  We’re waiting for the bill to be assigned a hearing.  When that happens, we’ll let you know.
  • 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 on May 14.  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.  We’ll discuss preemption at the June quarterly meeting.  For the legislation we’re advocating for, take a look at the updated TFM Cheat Sheet attached to this email and print it out so you can talk the talk in a pinch!

Interesting Articles

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 over the next week.  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.

  • 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
  • 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

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

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

  • June 11 – Tobacco Free Mass State House Event from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  Massachusetts State House, of course.  We will focus on the addictive nature of e-cigarettes and the impact it has on student athletes.  Our lineup includes an addiction specialist from Children’s Hospital, an athletic director, and a trainer from TB-12.  Please attend if you can!  If you’d like to visit your legislators while you’re there, please schedule your appointments and let us know—we’ll have some packets you can use during your visit.  If you’re thinking of attending, please reply to this email so I can get a sense of who’ll be there.  It should be an interesting, impactful event!
  • June 18, 2019 — Tobacco Free Policies and Interventions in Behavioral Health Care Settings from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM. This webinar from the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center shows how to take an agency smoke-free and implement tobacco cessation interventions into clinical practice.  Follow this link to learn more and register.
  • September 24 – Tobacco Free Mass Policy Forum from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM; registration at 9:30.  Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham. Registration information will be sent out next week.  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.
  • HRiA has a job opening at The 84 Movement for a training and capacity building coordinator. Please share this link to the posting if you know anyone that may be interested.

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 group is also working with pediatricians to share information and collect their stories.  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)

It’s no secret that 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 support.  And that support pays off—after a days-long town meeting, Brookline passed its flavor regulation!  Thanks to all who helped.  Boston is now looking at regulations, through the Mayor’s office/Public Health Department and through its City Council. We’ll hear more on that from Chris Banthin at the Quarterly Meeting on Thursday, and we’ll keep you posted if there are ways for Bostonians to be involved.

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.  And if a friend or frenemy lives in one, please ask them to speak or write in!

  • Royalston—June 5, 7 pm, 5 School Street, capping, flavors, a handful of other policies.  Contact DJ Wilson.
  • Sharon—June 12, 7 pm, Council on Aging, “un-exempting” mint, menthol, wintergreen. Contact DJ Wilson.
  • Chatham—June 17, 4 pm, 261 George Ryder Road, “un-exempting” mint, menthol, wintergreen. Contact DJ Wilson.
  • Norfolk—June 18, town hall, capping and original flavor policy. Contact Sarah McColgan.
  • Norwood—June 19, 10 am, 137 Nahatan Street, “un-exempting” mint, menthol, wintergreen and moving all vape sales to Retail Tobacco Stores. Contact DJ Wilson.

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 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.”  149 cities and towns have passed this policy, covering nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, at 64%.  Eight of these policies 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 127 municipalities limit, or cap, the number of tobacco sales permits they will issue, covering 42% of the state’s population.  Of these, eleven 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

Whew!  That’s a lot of tobacco talk… enough to make you dream about the stuff!