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    Saturday, September 30, 2023

    Ban on flavored tobacco is worth revenue loss

    A bill that would prohibit the selling of flavored cigarettes, tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and vapor products appears to have momentum in the General Assembly. But could a report by the Office of Fiscal Analysis that warns of a substantial loss in tax revenue derail legislation? We certainly hope not.

    Manufacturers produce flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products to make smoking and vaping more attractive, particularly to young people. Once addicted, they become reliable customers. Quitting is possible, of course, but it is not easy.

    That is why these products should be banned.

    From 2017-2019, e-cigarette use among high school students more than doubled to 1 in 4, and 83% of them are using flavored products, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. These products come in a wide variety of youth-friendly flavors, such as cotton candy, strawberry shortcake, peanut butter, etc. Likewise, cigars targeted at teens and young adults come in hundreds of flavors with colorful packaging.

    Historically, the tobacco industry has targeted menthol cigarettes to predominantly Black neighborhoods, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The marketing proved effective with Black Americans more likely to die from smoking-related disease than whites. Menthol would be among the flavors prohibited.

    This is an experimental effort to curb tobacco use, no doubt. Connecticut would be a groundbreaker in implementing a ban. We feel it should do so.

    A flavored-tobacco ban went into effect in Massachusetts on June 1, 2020. The sale of tobacco products dropped, but early data suggests some purchases were driven to other states, including Connecticut. Early evidence also suggests the ban has thus far not caused a lot of people to give up tobacco use.

    But what is becoming clear is that ending the sale of these flavored products does curb use among young people, and that is significant, because people who do not get hooked on tobacco as teens or young adults are unlikely to become later users. A study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that policies that restrict the sale of flavored tobacco have the potential to curb youth tobacco use in as few as six months.

    The bill sailed out of the Public Health Committee on March 5 on a 25-8 vote. Voting in favor were local lawmakers Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, and Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville.

    We were disappointed to see Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, vote against advancing the bill. Somers told us she is concerned a ban would convert young people to becoming traditional cigarette smokers and drive development of a black market in flavored products. She also expressed concerns about the effect on small businesses.

    “The demand would not be reduced by a state ban — it would simply shift the market into a less regulated, more dangerous place,” said the senator.

    While these concerns have merit, the good the bill could do in reducing the number of young people who become addicted to tobacco far outweighs the potential negatives raised by the senator.

    Another fear is that loss of tax revenue projected by the OFA — $88 million in 2022 and $109 million in fiscal-year 2023, the first full year of implementation. The fiscal analysis is based on the brief experience in Massachusetts, which saw a 25.3% reduction in tobacco tax revenue.

    But does Connecticut really want to keep these products, which are clearly targeted at our youth, on the shelves simply for the revenue? And the analysis does not take into account future savings.

    Frank J. Chaloupka, a professor of Public Health and Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he directs the university’s Health Policy Center and specializes in the economics of tobacco, submitted testimony to the Finance Committee chairs estimating that Connecticut would save $96 million in long-term health care costs from menthol smokers quitting as a result of a ban.

    Given the fiscal implications, whether the bill advances to a full vote by the General Assembly now rests with the Finance Committee, where local lawmakers could again play a critical role. We urge Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, as well as Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, to vote to move the bill forward.

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