Vapers Fight Against ‘Ideological’ Tobacco Control Crusaders Trying To Smother The Industry

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A coalition of Massachusetts retailers are in a legislative battle against tobacco control crusaders attempting to ban flavors and restrict vaping access “under the guise” of protecting kids.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) and the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB), groups that purport to advocate for responsible public health policy, are systematically trying to smother the vapor industry in Massachusetts while doing little to address youth access to combustible cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Coalition for Responsible Retailing (CRR) is actively pushing back against the prohibitionist regulatory schemes of the MMA and MAHB and have successfully overturned bans on vaping flavors in two municipalities, Somerset and Whitman. The coalition has also stopped tobacco controllers from securing flavor bans in four other Massachusetts towns, which “were unbiased and examined the facts,” rather than letting themselves “be driven by ideology.”

“The staunch, well-funded, ideological, anti-tobacco advocates have a practice of demonizing and marginalizing anyone who says anything that could be even moderately seen as support for tobacco or nicotine regardless of any facts or data that exist that show harm reduction is a legitimate approach to reducing cigarette and tobacco use,” Dennis Lane of the Coalition for Responsible Retailing told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I guess you could say they like to use the old New England Puritan method of public shaming to suppress meaningful conversation on how harm reduction could help them achieve better public health outcomes and that is the real shame in itself.”

The MMA and MAHB have already successfully secured flavor bans in 112 of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts, and are attempting those efforts again in Worcester, a city that previously rejected legislative attempts to ban flavors in vapor products. Each of the 351 cities in Massachusetts have their own municipal board of health, either elected or appointed, who have the power to “act in the interest of public health,” independent of mayors, city councils and other elected officials.

E-cigarettes are already largely defined as “tobacco products” under local law, despite only containing liquid nicotine that is heated to produce an aerosol vapor. The MMA and MAHB argue to localities that tobacco, and by extension nicotine, is the largest threat to public health and the future health of teens and children. The end goal appears to be regulating both tobacco and nicotine delivery products to the point retailers can no longer afford to carry the products. (RELATED: A Majority Of Adults Still Falsely Believe Nicotine Fuels Tobacco Cancer)

Much of the anti-vaping efforts are centered on their fears about youth use of the products, and if the devices will serve as a “gateway” to traditional tobacco products like cigarettes. A large amount of teens are experimenting with e-cigarettes. However, teen smoking is declining to historic lows. More importantly, the policies being pushed to limit teen vaping simply punish retailers while ignoring how most teens get their hands on these devices.

Roughly 86 percent of teens who acquire tobacco products obtain them through a third party, such as a friend or sibling, not from retail stores who generally refuse to sell to minors. Massachusetts law is also uneven when it comes to consequences for youth possession of certain substances. It is illegal for minors to purchase, possess or use marijuana and alcohol. Yet, tobacco products have no such restrictions for minors. (RELATED: Cancer Group Chides Media For Twisting Vaping Study To Falsely Suggest A Gateway Effect)

“CRR has been advocating to close these loopholes in a very simple way that will not criminalize minors, but will provide an opportunity to better educate them about their decision-making, and the MMA and MAHB refuse to support this approach,” said Lane. “The fact is CRR retailers have decades of experience as the primary gatekeepers in the tobacco and nicotine control process, we invest tens of thousands of dollars on systems and training to prevent sales to minors, and we have repeatedly offered to partner with the MMA, the MAHB and public health officials to address the well established fact that four out of five minors get tobacco from sources other than retailers, yet they turn us away.”

Restrictions aimed at flavors will likely serve to marginalize former smokers relying on a vape to satiate their nicotine cravings, potentially pushing them back to deadly combustible cigarettes, while doing nothing to address youth access. Flavored vaping products are key to helping smokers dissociate with the taste of tobacco and ultimately quit, advocates of e-cigarettes note. Public health experts agree that efforts to reduce tobacco use are admirable; however, they argue those efforts are bolstered, not undermined, by vaping devices. (RELATED: FDA Announces Plan To Ban Flavors Under Guise Of Asking Whether To Ban Flavors)

The CRR is hopeful they can gain ground with municipalities on the vaping issue by continuing to rely on a fact-based approach that centers on improving public health by elevating products that significantly reduce harm.

“The anti-vaping crowd is well organized and heavily funded, but it’s important to recognize that an additional 239 municipalities have not banned flavors and CRR is going to continue to work hard to get all 351 municipalities to recognize the evidence,” Lane told TheDCNF. “We know the industry is changing, we are committed to changing with it, and we are optimistic the support for harm reduction will continue to grow as the FDA, the CDC, National Academy of Sciences and others continue to publicly recognize that harm reduction offers a real opportunity to improve public health.”

Millions of former smokers in the U.S. are already embracing the positive science on vaping and using the harm reduction tools to quit combustible cigarettes.

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