Baker’s vape ban gets a public hearing

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

“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.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

Amidst the flurry of bills passed in the closing days of the Legislature’s sessions for the year one measure remains stubbornly stalled: Gov. Charlie Baker’s Housing Choice bill to promote more housing construction. (Boston Globe)

And then there’s the closeout budget bill, which was totally botched. Secretary of State William Galvin is now worried  about the impact on election scheduling. (CommonWealth)

The Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus is pushing legislation that would allow college athletes to be paid. (Eagle-Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brookline Town Meeting members overwhelmingly passed a new bylaw that would prohibit installation of gas or oil pipes in new buildings or as part of extensive renovation of existing ones, the community in the state to take such a stand against use of fossil fuels. (Boston Globe

The same group narrowly rejected a proposal to require the town’s retail marijuana store to operate by appointment only. (Boston Globe

The Boston Fire Department named its first woman district chief and appointed a black firefighter to be chief of operations, the No. 2 position in the department and highest post ever held by an African-American. (Boston Globe)

Boston announced a new initiative to provide housing for homeless people aged 24 and under. (Boston Globe)

Outgoing Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia made a number of questionable purchases using his city credit card, including iPhones and unexplained travel expenses. (The Public Radio

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Former White House Russia advisor Fiona Hill told the House impeachment panel that the “fictional narrative” of Ukrainian influence on the 2016 president race, embraced by President Trump and his Republican allies, plays into Russia’s hands. (New York Times)

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was announced Thursday by the Trump campaign as the honorary chairman of the president’s Massachusetts re-election effort. (Standard-Times)

ELECTIONS

Elizabeth Warren addressed a crowd at a historically black university in Atlanta, but was interrupted by protests against her new stand against any federal funding for charter schools from parents affiliated with a group supported by the pro-charter Walton family that founded Walmart. (Boston Globe)

Deval Patrick’s campaign sees South Carolina, with its large black Democratic electorate, as a potential opening in his late-entry bid for president. (Boston Globe) Ralph Whitehead has an interesting take on how Patrick’s healing message in his run for president is very different from his fight message in his first run for governor. (CommonWealth)

Republican Todd Taylor, largely dismissing the efforts of a super PAC affiliated with Gov. Charlie Baker, says the state GOP did a great job of building its farm team in the recent municipal elections. (CommonWealth)

A fascinating and affecting read on Joe Biden and his long struggle with stuttering. (The Atlantic)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The state and GE invest $4.5 million in Lynn Vocational Technical Institute to accelerate machinist training. (Daily Item)

Will it be WooSox or something else? We’ll find out Monday what the farm team in Worcester will be called. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Twenty Bristol Community College students and employees experienced trouble breathing and received medical attention after the 800 Purchase St. campus was evacuated following a report of an unknown odor Thursday morning. Hazmat teams say they’re unsure of what the source is. (Herald News) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital is among the safest hospitals in the nation, according to ratings from hospital safety group Leapfrog. (Brockton Enterprise) 

TRANSPORTATION 

In a speech to a North Shore business group, Congressman Seth Moulton went off on the state’s transportation system, arguing that the train to Salem has been “virtually unchanged” since it opened in 1837, and transit commuters are treated “like second-class citizens – frankly, like steerage.” (Gloucester Daily Times

Gov. Charlie Baker once again explained his general reluctance to ride the MBTA, telling Boston Public Radio, “I talk to people all the time who ride the public transit system. I’m not a virtue signaler.”

Rachelle Cohen looks to Paris for a glimpse of what a true modern regional commuter rail system could look like. (Boston Globe)

The Steamship Authority board of governors has approved a scaled-down, one-story design for a new Woods Hole terminal that addresses concerns raised by village residents over the past two years. (Cape Cod Times) 

Exit numbers on almost all highways across the state will change next year to bring them into compliance with a federal mandate. (Patriot Ledger) 

CASINOS

Encore Boston Harbor, trying to draw people to its casino, is lowering its minimum table game bets. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Essex Tech culinary arts teacher Robert Vandenbulcke, 62, was accused of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old boy at the school. (Eagle-Tribune

When he was head of the Metco program in Marblehead, Francois Fils-Aime, a 47-year-old from Randolph, allegedly embezzled $20,000 from the program’s “Sunshine Fund.” (Salem News)