Baker’s vape ban gets a public hearing

Comes as lawmakers bar flavored vapes, cigs

State public health officials will hear feedback about Gov. Charlie Baker‘s controversial vape ban today, one day after state lawmakers sent the nation’s most stringent restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products to the governor, who says he will review the details of the bill. 

The September 24 vaping ban and the legislative crackdown on flavored products are both unique-to-Massachusetts initiatives that have left shops selling the products reeling. Today’s hearing was set in motion by an October ruling from Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins that the Baker administration must reissue the vape ban as an emergency regulation, something the Department of Public health ended up doing October 28 when it filed the regulatory action with Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin.

Vape store owners, who have taken to Facebook posting photos of their shops displaying “Ban Baker” signs, will no doubt have some strongly worded dissent in their attempt to overturn the prohibition. 

Following the Wilkins decision, Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, wrote in a statement that he was pleased to see the judge rule that the emergency order was “improperly issued” and that the ban causes harm to Massachusetts retailers. The organization filed its complaint in September, arguing that Baker’s ban burdens interstate commerce and infringes on vendors’ First Amendment rights.

To date, three state residents have died of mysterious vaping-related illnesses. This pattern has occurred across the nation, creating concern among medical professionals and elected officials alike, although federal health investigators seem to be closing in on the cause. 

Across the Commonwealth, one in every five Massachusetts high schoolers is using e-cigarettes. State lawmakers passed the flavored tobacco legislation just before breaking for a long recess. 

The law would enact the first statewide prohibition of menthol cigarettes in the country, and create an excise tax of 75 percent on vaping products. Anyone found selling or providing tobacco to minors would be hit with a $1,000 penalty for a first offense. 

“This nation-leading step will save lives,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Thursday. 

Former New York City mayor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg tweeted at the governor, urging him to sign the bill into law

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“With the Trump [administration] lacking the courage to stand up to the tobacco industry, it’s critical for cities and states to step up, I hope @MassGovernor signs it as soon as it reaches his desk,” tweeted Bloomberg, who is known for contributing to anti-tobacco advocacy groups. 

Baker has 10 days to make his decision.