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Baker: No Reason To Delay Menthol, Flavored Tobacco Crackdown

Menthol cigarettes. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Menthol cigarettes. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol cigarettes, are set to take effect next week and Gov. Charlie Baker said he sees no reason the ongoing coronavirus pandemic should delay that.

The law restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol cigarettes, to smoking bars for on-premise consumption is set to take effect June 1, but the New England Convenience Stores & Energy Marketers Association has been pressing Gov. Charlie Baker to use his executive authority to delay the ban for one year.

"I think it should go into effect," Baker said Tuesday when asked if the change should be delayed. "It was a public health issue at the time and it was particularly important to a number of folks in the public health community and to the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and the leadership, and we supported it and we signed it and we want to see it go into effect."

NECSEMA said its member businesses "fully expect Massachusetts menthol, mint and wintergreen customers to travel to bordering states, especially [New Hampshire], to purchase these products" if the restrictions take effect June 1, and argued that such travel would limit the effectiveness of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, as lawmakers debated and passed the flavored tobacco ban amid a different public health emergency, NECSEMA was one of the main sources of opposition and said that the excise and sales taxes on menthol cigarettes and mint/wintergreen/menthol smokeless tobacco total about $228.45 million annually.

The group this spring has been pressuring Baker to delay implementation of the flavor ban for one year, not indefinitely, and said that pause would lead to "simply business as usual for one year longer than planned."

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