Joint Committee on Public Health Releases Omnibus Tobacco Bill

Co-Chairs Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Kate Hogan announced on Thursday that the Joint Committee on Public Health has released S. 2152, An Act to Protect Youth from The Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, an omnibus bill that seeks to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth.  Among other provisions, the legislation will prohibit the sale of all tobacco and nicotine delivery products to individuals under the age of 21.

“Massachusetts has made tremendous strides in reducing youth smoking and implementing policies that limit the harmful impacts of tobacco and nicotine use, including our new regulations to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to children,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “Unfortunately, the tobacco industry continues to pose a serious public health risk to our residents. This legislation is an important step to further reduce nicotine addiction among young people and I thank Representative Hogan, Senator Lewis and the Committee for their leadership on this critical health care issue.”

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs.”

Tobacco and nicotine use remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, requiring the Commonwealth and our residents to spend more than $4 billion in healthcare related costs each year. Smoking practices begin at a young age; as a December 2015 editorial from the Boston Globe noted, ‘a recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that 9 out of 10 daily smokers first tried a cigarette before age 19.’  This omnibus tobacco bill was created to prevent teenagers from starting to smoke by removing the sources of tobacco and nicotine delivery products from their reach.

“By presenting this omnibus bill, we join many cities and towns in Massachusetts that have already adopted a minimum legal smoking age of 21,” said Representative Kate Hogan.  “Currently, the system is a patchwork of different ages – 18, 19, and 21 – that can confuse retailers, distributors, consumers, and public health officials. This legislation will reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction and simplify regulations by establishing a clear, uniform law across the Commonwealth.”

The Commonwealth has collectively made progress in reducing rates of youth smoking; according to the Center for Disease Control, cigarette smoking among high school students in Massachusetts has declined from 21% in 2005 to 11% in 2013.  However, the tobacco industry is changing and innovating, introducing new products and marketing strategies directed to appeal to youth.  As a result, the Commonwealth now faces growing use by young people of other nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes; according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, use of e-cigarettes among high school students has risen alarmingly from 2% in 2011 to 13% in 2014.

Worcester pediatrician Lynda Young, M.D., chair of Tobacco Free Mass, said “We applaud the Committee on Public Health for their hard work in moving this critically important bill forward.  Enactment of this bill will be a giant step forward for public health, as it will have an immediate, positive impact on the well-being of our young people.  We urge its quick passage by the legislature.”

This bill also:
•    Responsibly regulates nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes by prohibiting their use at schools, including vocational schools and technical institutes, and in any workplace;
•    Requires child-resistant packaging for e-cigarettes;
•    Prohibits tobacco vending machines;
•    Prohibits the sale of all tobacco and nicotine delivery products in pharmacies and other healthcare institutions;
•    Grants the Department of Public Health the authority to regulate new, emerging tobacco and nicotine delivery products; and,
•    Requires the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth, and the Government Insurance Commission to determine how these benefit levels compare to CDC guidelines and best practices.

These provisions were adopted into the omnibus legislation from eight specific tobacco-related bills that were heard by the Joint Committee on Public Health.