Last November, amid a national outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol cigarettes.
The measure was hailed by public health advocates as a life-saving measure to stop young people from becoming addicted to tobacco. But convenience store owners and some lawmakers panned the menthol ban as an overreach that would drive store owners out of business. The debate had racial overtones since menthol products are particularly popular in the black community.
The ban went into effect June 1, and a protest by store owners on Thursday made clear that the debate isn’t over yet.
At a press conference outside the State House, convenience store owners said they were seeing a 30 percent drop in sales since the ban went into effect, and some stores are laying off employees, MassLive reported. The store owners also raised concerns that people were reselling illegally obtained cigarettes on the street.
According to the Boston Herald, the store owners pointed to photographs taken by a private detective depicting street-level black market sales, and said similar sales are happening across the state.
Where the black-market sellers are getting the cigarettes appears to be from neighboring states. The State House News Service reported earlier this week that cigarette sales were down by 24 percent in Massachusetts in August – but up by 65 percent in New Hampshire and 17 percent in Rhode Island during the same month, with huge spikes in sales of menthol cigarettes. (That also has major revenue implications for Massachusetts, which saw cigarette excise taxes drop off by nearly $32 million in the first three months of the ban, the News Service reported.)
Just this week, Attorney General Maura Healey charged a Sharon man with running an illegal cigarette operation out of Norwood. Ali Houdroge allegedly imported tens of thousands of dollars worth of tobacco products into the state each week, without paying taxes, to sell them in retail stores across Worcester, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties.
The Legislature is considering a bill that would suspend the ban on menthol cigarettes for a year to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 – though the bill was introduced based on a constituent request and there is little indication lawmakers will take it up.
Public health advocates continue to support the ban. Marc Hymovitz, Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement that by preventing addiction, the ban can save the state $4 billion in smoking-related health care costs annually. “Not only does this law protect kids from starting on the path to a lifetime of tobacco addiction, but it protects population groups that we know Big Tobacco continually and intentionally targets with aggressive advertising campaigns and other predatory tactics, including African Americans, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community,” Hymovitz said.
The Boston Fed’s Eric Rosengren says another federal stimulus program is “sorely needed” to prevent permanent damage to the economy.
Will they still be called exam schools? The Boston School Committee is considering moving away from using tests to determine who gets into the city’s three exam schools — at least for next fall — and basing admission on a combo of grades and neighborhoods where students live.
Opinion: Leah Hamilton of the Barr Foundation and Elina Alayeva of Springpoint say we can’t let this school year go to waste….The New England gaming market is not saturated yet, says Paul DeBole of Lasell University.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Brockton community center goes virtual and provides free, family-friendly programming amid the pandemic. (The Enterprise)
Westport locals reel after Attorney General Maura Healey decided recently to drop charges against 11 defendants awaiting trial in the landmark 2016 animal abuse case. (Herald News)
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital site for Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine trial is successfully recruiting a diverse study population that includes a significant proportion of elderly and minority participants, crucial to assessing the vaccine’s effectiveness in these hard-hit population subgroups. (Boston Herald)
Deaths of children who are under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families dropped significantly this year. (The Salem News)
Thirteen militia members have been charged as part of an alleged domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Detroit Free Press)
President Trump ripped two of his top — and most loyal — cabinet members, Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying it would be a “very sad, sad situation” if Barr did not move to indict Democrats like Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama and complaining that Pompeo has not released all of Hillary Clinton’s emails. (New York Times)
President Trump refers to Sen. Kamala Harris as “a monster” in an interview with Fox News. (NPR) What will happen with the remaining presidential debates is up in the air after Trump and his campaign zigzagged yesterday between conflicting statements on taking part in next week’s scheduled debate. (Washington Post)
At least six Massachusetts communities have sent out mail-in ballots with instructions to return the ballots by September 1, which was the date of the state primary, rather than November 3, the date of the general election. (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons joins Republican US Senate nominee Kevin O’Connor in calling on Sen. Ed Markey to agree to more debates in their race. (Boston Herald)
Boston-based investment firm Eaton Vance will be acquired by Morgan Stanley for $7 billion. (Boston Globe)
The Boston Teachers Union is going to court to block the city from requiring some teachers to return to work even though a COVID-19 threshold has been breached. (WBUR)
A total of 163 staff and students have tested positive for coronavirus this week in Massachusetts schools, up from 93 during the first week of school. (Boston Herald)
Gordon College in Wenham will cut its tuition by 33 percent this year, saving students thousands of dollars. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The City of Springfield is threatening to take a free breakfast and lunch program away from a local Catholic school unless the school pays $12,000 to subsidize it. (MassLive)
GBH begins a year-long project, “COVID and the classroom,” with its first story about a student at Everett High School.
Massachusetts school districts have reported 106 COVID-19 infections among students and 57 cases among staff over the last week. (MassLive)
Cambridge poet Louise Glück wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Boston Globe)
With Regal Cinemas announcing that it is temporarily suspending all operations, there are almost no movie theaters operating in central Massachusetts right now. (Telegram & Gazette)
Toll revenue from the state highway system has declined by one-third during the coronavirus pandemic. (MassLive)
A US District Court judge denies an injunction that would have shut down lobster and gillnet fishing in Massachusetts to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales until a trial seeking that closure takes place. (Cape Cod Times)
A Globe editorial decries the Department of Correction’s foot-dragging on medical parole applications.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles is suspending the driving school licenses of a Lawrence man charged with drug trafficking. The driving schools Michael Larocque runs in North Andover, Andover, and Haverhill will shut down and state officials are seeking tuition refunds for students. (Eagle-Tribune)
President Trump will apparently try his hand at talk radio, sitting in this Saturday for Rush Limbaugh, according to Howie Carr. (Boston Herald)
Donald MacGillis, a former Boston Globe editorial writer and editor and an avid outdoorsman, dies at 74 in a hiking accident on Mount Katahdin in Maine. (The Boston Globe)