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Posted by (name unknown) on Mar 7th, 2016 9:15am

Kudos to the state legislature's Joint Committee on Public Health (chaired by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow)), for its recent release of a comprehensive bill to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among young people. An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction (SB 2152), initially sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and House Health Care Financing Chairman Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), is a comprehensive redraft of legislation that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under age 21; prohibit the use of e-cigarettes at schools and in any workplace; requires child-resistant packaging for e-cigarettes; prohibits tobacco vending machines; and bans the sale of all tobacco and nicotine delivery products in pharmacies and other healthcare institutions.

MHA testified at the State House in July in favor of many of the provisions included in this bill, which is also supported by Tobacco Free Mass., the state's leading organization to reduce tobacco use in the commonwealth, and of which MHA is a member. Increasing the age at which individuals can buy cigarettes – or any tobacco product – is a common sense way to promote population health. According to the US Surgeon General, almost no one starts smoking after age 25, and almost 90% of smokers started by age 18. A combination of state laws, prevention programs, and community-based education will help decrease the prevalence of youth smoking. While some of the state's 351 cities and towns have limited tobacco sales to those 21 and older, many others have set the limit at age 18 or 19. A consistent, statewide age limit of 21 is the most appropriate approach to discourage tobacco use and subsequent addiction among the young people of Massachusetts, and thereby decrease smoking, vaping and other tobacco use rates in the Bay State overall.

As SB2152 also prohibits the sale of tobacco products at healthcare facilities, Massachusetts hospitals have historically adhered to the policy outlined in this bill on a voluntary basis. In fact, over 76% of MHA members have completely tobacco-free campuses and several hospitals have joined MHA in establishing employment practices that screen for tobacco use. We clearly understand the detrimental effects tobacco products have on the health of all individuals and the negative impact these products pose to the recovery process of patients. Our hospitals strive to improve the health of all patients and we believe that it's counterproductive to the collective mission of hospitals and healthcare providers – including pharmacies – if tobacco products are sold where healthcare treatment is offered.

In addition, SB2152 prohibits the sale of nicotine delivery products – e-cigarettes and their ilk – to anyone under age 21. E-cigarettes are not defined by federal law as tobacco products. This means that they are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and have had no safety or efficacy evaluation. This regulatory void means it's appropriate for the state to intervene to protect young people from the impact of these products. The legislation mirrors many of the provisions that the Attorney General has implemented in regulations to prohibit the sale of electronic smoking devices to those under age 18 and protect children from unsafe packaging of liquid nicotine. As more and more youth utilize tobacco products other than cigarettes, the provisions of this bill will go further to help ensure that any tobacco or new nicotine delivery products stay out of the hands of minors.

Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death in the nation, with smoking alone causing over 480,000 deaths per year (including via second hand smoke). In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each year in lost productivity due to illness and premature death caused by tobacco consumption. MHA and our members strongly support these efforts collectively and individually to end tobacco use in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the nation.

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