The co-chairs of the legislature’s Public Well being Committee pushed Thursday for a late-session revival of a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, an idea which had been scrapped by one other committee earlier this month.
Throughout a morning press convention, Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, and Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, known as for the reinstatement of the menthol tobacco ban as half of a bigger invoice banning flavored vaping merchandise — albeit with some skepticism.
“We feel that to really complete the effort to protect the public, [the menthol tobacco ban] needs to be part of the package,” Steinberg mentioned. “But we’re committed this session to moving the ball forward, even if incrementally. This is not the time for us to waste even another year trying to get it perfect. We’re going to move forward.”
In March, the Public Well being Committee permitted a invoice that will have prohibited the sale of each flavored vaping merchandise and menthol tobacco, however the Finance, Income and Bonding Committee stripped the menthol element when it permitted the invoice earlier this month.
Proponents argue that each forms of merchandise are designed to enchantment to susceptible populations, in an effort to get them hooked on nicotine. They contend that vapor merchandise with flavors like cotton sweet are geared toward younger folks and menthol cigarettes are designed to enchantment to Black and brown communities. Abrams cited statistics suggesting that 85% of Black people who smoke used menthol merchandise.
“These campaigns to target certain groups are very effective, quite honestly, and we have to try to do something to get in their way,” she mentioned.
Opponents of banning the merchandise in Connecticut counter that it’s already unlawful to promote nicotine to folks underneath 21 years outdated and prohibiting the sale totally within the state would solely drive the markets elsewhere. In written testimony submitted to the Public Well being Committee earlier this 12 months, Jonathan Shaer, govt director of the New England Comfort Retailer & Power Entrepreneurs Affiliation, known as it a “consequence-riddled policy.”
“When there is demand, there is a market. Period. Irrefutable,” he mentioned. “The question the Public Health Committee must ask itself is whether it wants that market to be the legal, licensed, regulated, enforced and taxed system that exists today, or a dismantled system that no longer involves retailers checking IDs and ensuring only legal and regulated products are sold.”
The change additionally would include a hefty price ticket. The Workplace of Fiscal Evaluation anticipated the menthol ban to lead to a lack of greater than $100 million in state tax revenues. When the Finance Committee scrapped the supply, the invoice’s fiscal influence dropped from an anticipated $108 million decline to a $2.5 million loss.
Steinberg argued that it could be an acceptable use of the tobacco settlement fund or different short-term funding to cowl these losses within the curiosity of public well being.
“It’s always a shame when we actually contemplate sacrificing the public health to revenue considerations, but $100 million is not an inconsequential piece of change for our budget,” he mentioned. “We wish it was a smaller number so it wouldn’t have been as big an issue.”
Requested Thursday whether or not the menthol ban may seem as lawmakers negotiate a two-year state working finances with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, Home Speaker Matt Ritter was noncommittal, however mentioned that every thing’s on the desk.
“We’ll continue to take ideas as they come in. We understand the public health impacts so we’ll continue to have conversations with our caucus about it. I have folks talking about it both ways, actually,” Ritter mentioned.
There are additionally pending federal modifications on the difficulty. The Meals and Drug Administration introduced final month it could suggest a nationwide ban on menthol and different flavors in tobacco. Nonetheless, Abrams mentioned she anticipated it could be awhile earlier than any modifications have been made on the nationwide degree.
“We’ve seen in public health that takes a lot longer and probably aren’t as encouraged that that will happen. So if we can’t get it done this year, it doesn’t mean that the battle is over for us,” she mentioned.
Each chairs mentioned they have been hopeful the legislature would go the flavored vaping product ban this session.
“We know what a lifetime of tobacco and nicotine addiction does to one’s health, so shame on us if we don’t do everything possible to keep that from happening to our children,” Abrams mentioned.