Massachusetts Flavor Ban Now in Effect

Tobacco users in the state are limited to buying menthol and flavored products at smoking bars.

June 04, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—Massachusetts smokers seeking menthol or flavored tobacco products at their local store are now out of luck, reports. Under a law that took effect Monday, those products may only be purchased for on-site consumption at licensed smoking bars, where customers must be at least 21 years old. Non-flavored items are still available at traditional retail outlets.

This is the first statewide law that prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products at retailers such as convenience stores and gas stations. The law was promoted by advocates against under-age smoking.

Known as “An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control,” the law limits where flavored tobacco products, including menthol, mint and wintergreen flavors, are sold. Flavored products impacted by the law include:

  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Pipe tobacco
  • Snuff

Earlier this year, similar restrictions on e-cigarette nicotine products went into effect in Massachusetts. They limit sales of flavored nicotine vaping products to smoking bars for on-site consumption. Those bars and adult-only tobacco stores are the only retailers in the state allowed to sell vape products with a nicotine content of over 35 milligrams per milliliter. But non-flavored vaping products with smaller quantities of nicotine can be sold elsewhere. The law also imposes an additional 75% excise tax on the wholesale price of nicotine vaping products on top of the 6.25% state sales tax.

The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association, an industry group representing 3,300 retailers across the state, wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker twice last month asking him to consider holding off on enacting the law during the coronavirus pandemic. Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the association, wrote that menthol tobacco transactions make up about 20% of revenue for store owners. He estimates that with the new law in effect, 800 stores could go under within a month or two.

“I am gravely concerned about the large number of convenience store causalities the impending law, coupled with the COVID-19 related financial fallout, will have on our industry and the communities they serve,” wrote Shaer, who added that would-be customers will seek products from out-of-state stores at a time when officials are discouraging travel.

Last week, Gov. Baker said he saw no reason that the pandemic should delay implementation of the law. “We supported it and we signed it and we want to see it go into effect,” he said.