By Senator Sal DiDomenico
In the United States, the face of the tobacco industry is rapidly evolving. In recent years, the industry has undergone an era of innovation, creating new products designed to appeal to new customers bound for a lifetime of addiction.
And yet, one aspect of the tobacco business has remained the same: their unwavering focus on targeting kids. Through attractive packaging, enticing flavors, cheap prices, and strategic product placement in retail environments, Big Tobacco is able to market to youth and find the “replacement smokers” who have helped keep their business afloat.
All of this, of course, comes at the expense of the health and well-being of young adults; in Massachusetts alone, 117,000 young people alive today will die early from tobacco-related illnesses, and this statistic is unlikely to change unless we do something about it.
Fortunately, the Massachusetts Legislature has a real opportunity to curb these disturbing trends. Recently, the Joint Committee on Public Health announced the release of an omnibus bill aimed at preventing youth tobacco and nicotine addiction. The bill would put us at the forefront of tobacco policy by raising the legal smoking age in Massachusetts from 18 to 21 years of age, prohibiting the sale and use of e-cigarettes on school grounds, in restaurants, and in workplaces, and requiring child-resistant packaging for the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes.
Also included in this legislation are provisions from a bill I filed that would ban all pharmacies and health care institutions from selling tobacco products. Over 128 Massachusetts communities already require this of their local pharmacies, and I strongly believe the entire Commonwealth should follow suit.
In 2014, CVS Pharmacy made national headlines when it announced it would stop selling cigarettes and tobacco based products in its stores, claiming that selling one of the leading causes of preventable illness and death in the nation was inconsistent with its mission and values.
It was a bold move, but a common sense decision nonetheless. It’s no secret that tobacco use has repeatedly been linked to cancer and heart disease, and it poses a financial burden to our healthcare system. Quite frankly, cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a health care delivery setting, and by carrying these products, pharmacies unintentionally send the message that they are “safe” to use.
This is an especially poor example to set for our kids, who are particularly susceptible to addiction, and as more teens take up a nicotine habit, the decision to stop selling tobacco based products becomes all the more valuable. Pharmacies and health care providers simply should not be able to aid the tobacco industry by helping to create lifelong users, and if we truly want to prevent future generations from becoming addicted to nicotine, we need to make some serious changes.
This is why it is so critically important that local pharmacies and other health care institutions follow CVS’s lead by ending the sale of all tobacco and nicotine delivery products. By doing this, local pharmacies are better able to service their patients, clients, and health care providers, all while setting a positive example for their younger clientele. I am very grateful to the Public Health Committee for including this crucial provision in their omnibus legislation, and I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to take action on this comprehensive bill.
Just recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with young advocates from my district who were at the State House for Kick Butts Day. When these kids stopped by my office to share why it is so important for them to take a stand against the tobacco industry, I was truly impressed by their well-spoken advocacy.
They told me about how targeted they felt by the tobacco industry’s marketing ploys and worried about their younger brothers and sisters who sometimes confuse flavored nicotine products at the convenience or local drug store for candy. They recited the disturbing statistics surrounding youth tobacco use, and explained how determined they are to stop these trends dead in their tracks. But most importantly, they called upon the Legislature to assist them in their fight against Big Tobacco.
The Public Health Committee’s bill presents us with a real opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives and well-being of our Commonwealth’s young adults. Don’t we owe it to these kids to take action?
Senator Sal DiDomenico is Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and he has represented the Middlesex and Suffolk District since 2010.