Tobacco Free Mass

It’s been a busy November and December, a fitting ending to a busy year.  So bake a batch of the best gingerbread cookies ever, grab a mug of cocoa, and settle in to read all about it!

Tobacco Free Mass Legislative Priorities

Thanks to many dedicated Coalition members, we’ve set our legislative priorities for the coming session!  At an open meeting of the Advocacy Committee on October 25, members brainstormed potential policy priorities and highlighted four recommendations.  The Advocacy Committee discussed and refined these at its November 8 meeting, and the full coalition voted to approve them during our December 13 Annual Meeting.  All right, enough process!  Here are Tobacco Free Mass’ Legislative Priorities:

  • Increasing funding for the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program (MTCP).  We won a $500,000 increase last year, but the demands on the program keep growing.  The program has been working to educate the public about e-cigarettes and vaping, educate people about—and enforce—the new youth tobacco prevention law, meet a growing demand for youth nicotine cessation, and guide the passage of local menthol restrictions… all on top of the usual work they do on an already restricted budget.
  • Banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products.  We include menthol and other mint flavors in our definition of flavor.  In 2009, cigarettes with flavors other than menthol were banned at the federal level. In Massachusetts, many communities have already restricted the sale of flavored products to adult-only establishments (see Local Action section, below), and last week, Somerville became the first municipality in Massachusetts to restrict the sale of menthol (see Menthol Working Group, below).  Tobacco companies use flavored products to target youth, and they use menthol to target African Americans, Hispanics, and people who are LGBTQ in addition to youth.
  • Raising the cigarette tax and instituting an excise tax on e-cigarettes and vape products.  In 2013, the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes was raised by $1.00 to $3.51 per pack.  Over the past five years, we’ve fallen behind other New England states (Connecticut and Rhode Island) and New York.  Massachusetts currently collects sales tax on e-cigarette/vape products, but not excise tax.  Taxing e-cigarette/vape products would help increase their prices and make them harder for young people to afford.  Because of the wild diversity of these products, it’s been difficult to figure out how to tax them.  Our current thinking is to tax them at a certain percentage of their wholesale price.
  • Close the loopholes in the MassHealth tobacco cessation benefit. The 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.  The MassHealth benefit is seen as the gold standard, and TFM is also looking at ensuring that GIC plans, the health plans for state and local government employees, have the same tobacco cessation benefits as MassHealth.

These are by no means the only things we’re interested in pursuing in the next couple of years.  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.

Our advocates are working to hammer out the details of the legislation in the next few weeks.  Bills will be filed in January, and we’ll keep you up-to-date in the months ahead!

TFM Leadership

At our December 13 meeting, we voted in our new Chair, Dr. Lauren Smith, and our new Vice-Chair, Dr. Dennis Dimitri.  I’ve attached their bios to this email because, trust me, there is not enough room in this space to list all their accomplishments.  We’re excited to have them leading us forward!  And we’d like to thank Dr. Lynda Young, our outgoing Chair, for her dedication, vision, and humor.  She kept us moving and making positive change and we will forever be grateful!

Interesting Articles

Upcoming Tobacco Free Mass Meetings

Our meeting calendar for 2019 has been released!  The full schedule is on the Tobacco Free Mass website and I’ve also attached it to this email.  The next full coalition and Advocacy Committee meetings are:

  • January 24 – Advocacy Committee meeting from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM at The Strategy Group’s offices at 40 Court Street, 11th Floor, Boston
  • March 7 – Full Coalition meeting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM – Massachusetts Medical Society, Waltham
  • March 7 – 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 Opportunities

  • A summit on tobacco issues in colleges and universities will bring together national and statewide experts to provide policy (development, implementation, enforcement), prevention, and cessation best practices to colleges and their partners.  College staff, faculty, and students of colleges/universities who are considering, or in the process of strengthening their campus tobacco policies are invited to attend, as well as their community partners who support such efforts. The summit is presented by Americans for NonSmokers’ Rights and its partners, and will be held on March 1, 2019 in Brookline, New Jersey. They ask that anyone considering attending complete a brief survey by December 21 at https://bit.ly/2S51Grh.

TFM Working Groups

  • TFM’s E-Cigarette Working Group has been meeting regularly in 2018.  During its December meeting, the group discussed its accomplishments and how it might be most helpful moving forward. With the momentum on flavor restrictions/bans and the inclusion of menthol, the group decided to focus on contributing to the larger TFM group and agenda by collecting personal stories and photos that can inform the community and legislators. This idea was enthusiastically received by the Advocacy Committee!  A task from the last meeting was to put together questions that could specifically be asked of/develop a guide on how to conduct conversations with several distinct groups in order to elicit stories that paint a picture of e-cigarette use in Massachusetts.  The E-Cigarette Working Group will hold its next meeting by phone on January 15 from 10-11:30 am. If you would like to participate in the call 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 has met several times over the last couple of months as two communities have started moving on restricting menthol sales. These were local hearings and were organized and supported by the local Board of Health Tobacco Programs and the Community Partnership program that oversees the municipalities.  The Working Group gave extra support to ensure a good precedent, and also to assess which strategies and messages the opposition would employ, information that will be invaluable as we move our statewide legislation.  The first of the two municipalities considering removing its menthol exemption was Needham held a hearing on December 12, followed by more testimony at its regular meeting the morning of December 14; it has postponed voting until January.  Somerville held its hearing on December 13, and voted that same night to restrict menthol to adult-only tobacco retailers.  Although both hearings had a showing from the tobacco industry, including the Coalition for Responsible Retailing, the majority of testimony at both hearings was in support for the regulations.  Thank you to everyone who testified, wrote a letter of support, or spread the word.  If you are interested in joining the group or coming to the next meeting, please contact Chris Banthin, who’s heading up the TFM Menthol Working Group.

Local Tobacco Policies

You’re still reading this? Good!  Because there’s a lot going on at 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. 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:

  • Raising the minimum age of sale from 18 to 21.  WHAT?!? Didn’t we just pass a statewide law to do this?  Yes, but the law grandfathers in young people under 21 who are currently able to purchase tobacco. Cities and towns are in a mad rush to pass local regulations that would close the loophole.  They have until December 31 to make the change; the last hearing we know of is on December 27.  An unintended benefit of this rash of hearings is that many are bundling other good tobacco policies in.  Never a dull moment!  As of this writing, 220 cities and towns have passed this regulation, covering 88% of the state’s population.
  • 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.”  139 cities and towns have passed this policy, covering nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, at 61%.  Only one of these policies includes menthol as a flavor at this time (Somerville), but Needham has held hearings on a proposed change and other municipalities are beginning to consider it.  Anyone interested in the menthol issue should contact Chris Banthin and join the Menthol Working Group.
  • 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. 10 cities and towns have already passed this new regulation, covering 3.5% 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.  115 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

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Have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!  2019 is going to be amazing.

–Gwen