Attleboro area reps divided over flavored tobacco ban passed by House
The Massachusetts House on Wednesday voted to ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, in a move that divided the local delegation.
Democrats such as Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, supported the bill while some Republicans, including Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, opposed it. The final vote was 126-31 and fell mostly along party lines.
The ban would also eliminate flavored pipe and chewing tobacco.
Hawkins said he was torn over the issue at first.
He said he favored the restrictions on vaping because it is becoming such a big problem with young people and there have been deaths associated with it, but was troubled over banning menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.
Hawkins is a former smoker whose brother died of emphysema.
“So personally I think smoking is horrible,” he said. “But I do not wish to be judgmental of other adults who smoke. And I worried about local, family owned convenience stores who would lose business to Rhode Island.”
Hawkins said what swayed him to vote yes is the fact that menthol and products like cherry-flavored cigars, attracts young people to smoking and they then get hooked.
Rhode Island has already banned flavored vape and e-cigarette products, but not other flavored tobacco products like cigars.
Poirier, on the other hand, said the bill makes no sense because it bans all flavored tobacco, but not flavored marijuana.
She also said Massachusetts stores along the Rhode Island border will “get killed” by a loss of flavored cigarette and cigar sales.
Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he is not a fan of too much interference in business, but smoking and vaping are public health issues.
“While I’m generally opposed to government overregulating adults, the fact remains that the flavored tobacco, and now vaping, products have been used throughout history as a vehicle to lure children and get them addicted to nicotine,” Dooley said in an email.
“Teen vaping usage is skyrocketing and this delivery method causes a much greater likelihood in a far shorter time period that the child will become addicted,” he said.
Dooley said he appreciates the economic argument made by those who say the ban will hurt convenience stores, but added that the cost to the health care systems outweighs that.
Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, who voted against the bill, said there was good and bad in the bill. He supported the restrictions on vaping, but opposed the ones on tobacco.
Representing a district that borders Rhode Island, Howitt said he is sensitive to stores losing the business of people who smoke menthol cigarettes or use other flavored products like chewing tobacco and cigars.
“It’s unfair to a lot of small businesses,” he said.
He said he is also opposed to government getting too involved in people’s personal lives.
Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, proposed an amendment that was defeated by the Democratic majority.
It would have established fines for people under the age of 21 who illegally purchase tobacco products.
Barrows could not be reached for comment, but Poirier said Republicans felt it is unfair to place all the responsibility on stores when teens use fake identification to buy cigarettes.
The bill now goes to the Senate and would require the governor’s signature before it becomes law.
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