Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh took aim at the tobacco industry on Thursday in emphasizing his support for legislation that would end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the state.
Frosh was accompanied by members of the General Assembly, health advocates and community activists at a morning news conference in Annapolis. The House Economic Matters Committee held a hearing on the bill this afternoon that was scheduled for 1 p.m. EST. The bill was filed at the request of Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General. The Senate is considering parallel legislation and has scheduled a hearing for next Thursday at 1 p.m. EST.
“Vaping itself is extremely dangerous. But if we allow another generation to become addicted to nicotine…we as a society will see much more illness and much more premature deaths as a result. We need to pass this bill and make sure that doesn’t happen,” Frosh said at the Lowe House Office Building.
He said tobacco companies are targeting kids with sweet-tasting products. He mentioned “gummy-bear-flavored vape juice” as just one example.
Frosh relayed some recently publicized stories associated with the hazards of vaping.
“We’ve all seen stories of kids who become sick from vaping. We’ve seen pictures of them in the hospital, some on ventilators, some who’ve had to have lung transplants…and many who have died as a result.”
Del. Daryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s, chair of the legislative Black Caucus, said tobacco companies have long targeted minorities and low-income individuals with flavored products.
“Tobacco companies have aggressively targeted African Americans and lower-income economic groups in our state for decades with a strong emphasis on menthol. Menthol is a flavor which has been heavily targeted toward black communities.”
Barnes said: “Flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, are particularly dangerous because they are designed to soften the harsh taste of tobacco, hook new tobacco users, and can lead to the use of other tobacco products.”
Barnes said research shows that 80 percent of teens who use tobacco products start out with flavors such as “mint or menthol.”
Jocelyn Collins, who is the D.C. and Maryland government relations director at the American Cancer Society Action Network, said taking on the tobacco industry is a matter of “social justice.”
“We’re tired of seeing tobacco companies reinvent themselves to hook the next generation. We’re finally here to say ‘no more’ and stop Big Tobacco from selling these dangerous products in our state once and for all.
Collins said that while African Americans have been disproportionate targets of tobacco companies, all communities have been targeted.
“This may sound like a conversation about race. And it probably is. The African American community has been particularly hit hard. But when it comes to what and who we’re protecting right here..children’s lives matter, adults’ lives matter, white, brown, black, yellow — they all matter.”
MarylandReporter.com spoke with Del. Johnny Mautz, R-Talbot, about the legislation prior to the hearing. Mautz sits on the Economic Matters Committee. He said he is studying the legislation and is keeping an open mind.
“It’s a topic that has a lot of interest. Last year we raised the smoking age to 21. Later I found out that by doing so that also eliminated the penalties for people under 21 to have tobacco or the vaping devices — which is a big problem.
“Sheriffs, school administrators, parents — I’ve heard a lot from people who are very concerned about this…I understand the intention behind flavored tobacco but I want to know the details of what’s in this bill and how its gonna be implemented and how it’s going to affect both tobacco users, the economy of these devices and the tobacco, and how it’s being sold and what is the real result.”
Last November Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass legislation banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products — including menthol cigarettes. Flavored e-cigarettes were outlawed immediately and menthol cigarettes will be banned as of June 1. Vermont also is considering legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products.
David Sutton, a spokesperson for Altria Group, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA and the nation’s biggest cigarette manufacturer, told MarylandReporter.com that the legislation is not the best way to curb underage use and is unfair to adult consumers.
“Prohibition of all tobacco products with characterizing flavors other than tobacco is not an effective way to address the issue of underage tobacco use and is unfair to those adult tobacco consumers who may prefer such flavor varieties.
“At a time when youth usage of cigarettes and other traditional products are at historic lows, enforcement of the FDA’s e-vapor flavor guidance is an important step which, combined with raising the legal age of purchase to 21, should have a significant impact on reducing underage vaping.”