With the governor calling out vaping in his State of the State address Thursday, anti-smoking advocates are confident they’ll have the support to ban all flavored tobacco products this session, but if there’s a hitch to be had it’s with menthol.
“We took significant steps over the last year to protect kids,” Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday, “passing legislation to address the vaping epidemic and to ensure drinking water at every school and child care center will be tested for lead. And this work will continue.”
Last session, the Legislature raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, taxed e-cigarettes and banned their sale online.
Scott’s mention of vaping was a small one, but it left advocates feeling as if their efforts to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarette cartridges, will be successful.
Sen. Virginia "Ginny" Lyons, D-Chittenden, said in a Friday interview she intends to introduce a bill banning flavored tobacco products early next week and to begin taking testimony later in the month.
“I had it drafted over the summer and fall,” she said, adding that if there’s any real opposition to the bill it will likely be over banning menthol-flavored tobacco products.
She said menthol and other flavors have been marketing towards children and minority groups, and she plans to have experts testify to this while the bill is in committee.
Tina Zuk, of the American Heart Association, said in a Friday interview menthol must be included in the ban, as kids will move to whatever flavor is available to them. Many are on board with banning flavors such as bubblegum, cherry, grape and the like, but there’s concern menthol isn’t viewed the same way as those flavors.
“I think there hasn’t been as much education done on menthol, so people don’t see it as the same kind of crisis they see with e-cigarettes,” Zuk said. “The Heart Association as well as the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Environment and many of our partners in that organization are really concerned, because if lawmakers just eliminate flavored e-cigarettes, kids will move to the flavor that’s available, and the flavor that would then be available is menthol tobacco.”
Menthol provides a “smoother” smoke, say advocates, making it attractive to children.
“I think if we face any hurdle, and I hope we don’t face any hurdles, but if we face any, it might be around menthol,” Jennifer Costa, of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said Friday. “When most people think of e-cigarettes they immediately can see Big Tobacco is using flavored e-cigarettes to target youth, and nobody wants kids smoking, so that’s an easy lift. I think when you think about menthol smokers, I don’t know that kids are the first thing that come to mind. You think of adults. But the reality is, of kids who smoke, 54% - more than half of kids who smoke - choose menthol.”
Costa said it’s expected that Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, will introduce similar legislation in the House.