Hearing on menthol ban cancelled — for now

Jul 9, 2019

This article has been updated to reflect that the proposed ban is a health regulation, not a bylaw, meaning that the Board can singlehandedly pass a ban without Town Meeting approval.

A public hearing about the Board of Health’s proposed ban on menthol, mint, wintergreen, and other flavored tobacco products, originally scheduled for July 17, has been cancelled.

The Board of Health is considering banning all flavored tobacco products, including menthol and mint flavored cigarettes and flavored vape products. A second proposed health regulation change would remove an exemption for the town’s smoke shops.

Health boards have the authority to make health regulations without approval at town meeting or by the state’s Attorney General.

Director of Public Health Robert Ethier said that the board is waiting to see how “some litigation concerning this regulation” plays out in court before moving forward.

Currently, Cumberland Farms is suing six towns in the state that have adopted regulations similar to those proposed in Wareham.

According to a press release from the convenience store chain, “The regulations arbitrarily force Cumberland Farms to stop selling many flavored tobacco and nicotine products, while allowing competing businesses to continue selling them,” creating “anti-competitive marketplaces” through restrictions with “no plausible public health rationale.”

Ethier also mentioned wanting to see what action the state will take regarding menthol bans.

There are currently bills in both the Massachusetts State House and Senate that would ban sales of all flavored tobacco, including menthol, mint, and wintergreen (Senate Bill 1279 and House Bill 1902, respectively). The state-level bills have been referred to the joint committee on Public Health.

Ethier said that in the past, the state has urged local health boards to pass regulations, saying that neighboring towns will soon follow suit. In the past, he said, that hasn’t happened, leaving Wareham as the only nearby town with the regulations in place.

He acknowledged that if only Wareham banned these products, smokers would get them in nearby towns.