State Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, has proposed an amendment to the Senate budget that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, which are popular among teens who use Juul pods and other e-cigarette vaping products.
BOSTON — An epidemic of vaping and e-cigarette use among Massachusetts teens is frightening doctors and advocates, and state Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, said he is making it a priority to pass a bill forbidding the sale of flavored tobacco or tobacco products this session.
One in 5 high school students in Massachusetts already use e-cigarettes and the rise in teen tobacco use is largely attributed to the availability of flavors like mango, minty menthol and fruit medley, said Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, director of pediatric research at the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Keenan and state Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlboro, are pushing legislation that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, which experts say entice teens to vape.
Keenan also plans to offer the proposal as an amendment to the Senate budget.
“With the e-cigarette tax already in the budget, we have a real opportunity to push back on companies like Juul and protect our kids from addiction, but we need to include flavors, cessation and education programs in that effort too,” Keenan said in a statement. “An increase in tax alone won’t disrupt the underlying issue of Big Tobacco attracting new customers, underage customers, with flavors. To really prevent another generation from being lost to Big Tobacco, we need to push back on the flavored products specifically designed to target kids.”
Keenan and Gregoire’s bill is the latest legislative push to take e-cigarettes out of the hands of teens. The Senate budget also seeks to expand tobacco excise taxes to e-cigarettes and vape products. The Legislature last year raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21 statewide. Last month, Attorney General Maura Healey joined the growing field of elected officials who support taxing e-cigarettes and banning flavored products.
Massachusetts teens are nine times more likely than adults to use e-cigarettes, Winickoff said, despite the insistence from vaping-related companies that their products are meant to be used by of-age smokers seeking a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. He said 25 percent of current high school seniors in Massachusetts have reported using e-cigarettes.
A pediatrician, Winickoff said it is “one of the saddest things as a pediatrician” for him to see a baby in his practice grow up to be a teen who is now asking for help with an addiction to vaped nicotine.
“We were down to single-digit use rates of combusted tobacco. Now, not a kid comes in who isn’t either addicted to Juul or has a friend who’s using it,” he said. “So we went from it’s not a problem, basically solved, to almost everyone is having a problem, and that happened in the last two years.”
Winickoff said the flavors attract kids to vaping – 80 percent of high school tobacco users say they’ve used a flavored product in the last 30 days– and that once they start, they are more likely to become addicted to the nicotine in the vaping liquid and more likely to carry a nicotine or tobacco addiction into adulthood.
Juul has said it never marketed to anyone underage and always tries to block anyone below the age of 21 from buying its products. Last year, it stopped selling some flavors of pods in stores and now only sells them online where the age of a customer can be verified.
“We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke, or already use nicotine, to use Juul products. We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission,” Juul CEO Kevin Burns wrote in the company’s youth prevention action plan. “Our intent was never to have youth use Juul products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it.”