Massachusetts Town Punishes Adult Vapers With Ban On Flavors Including Menthol

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A town in Massachusetts that previously rejected restrictions on vaping flavors is banning convenience stores from selling flavored vape juice, cigarettes and cigars.

Members of the Worcester Board of Health voted unanimously Monday on the new restrictions, which will take effect January 1, 2019. The bill restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products, which under their definition includes nicotine-based vapes, to adult-only stores like e-cigarette and tobacco shops, reported the Telegram.

Board members claim the move is intended to curb teen vaping, but convenience stores say it will significantly undermine their businesses while failing to address how youths are actually getting their hands on the products. They argue convenience stores are not the problem when it comes to youth access to tobacco, noting that stores in Worcester have a 96 percent compliance rate with the 21-year age restriction on tobacco.

“This is a random, discriminatory and a potential restraint of trade,” Rich Watts of convenience store operator Yatco Energy told the Telegram. “We have been the enforcers taking responsibility to deny sales to those under 21. …Directing (flavored tobacco) sales to a limited number of stores is the wrong way to go about it.”

Stores estimate they could collectively lose $5 million in revenue due to the flavor ban.

Tobacco controllers have now successfully secured flavor bans in 113 of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts. 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.

Much of the anti-vaping efforts in the state 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.

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. Vaping advocates note flavored vaping products are key to helping smokers dissociate with the taste of tobacco and ultimately quit.

Public health experts agree that efforts to reduce tobacco use are admirable; however, they argue those efforts are bolstered, not undermined, by vaping devices.

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