Last November, YouTuber harm reduction advocate Matt Culley called the tax proposals “insane” and “the worst, most regressive war on drugs vaping bill I have seen”.
Professor Michael Siegel said: “This ban is going to cause many ex-smokers to return to cigarette smoking. Ex-smokers who rely upon flavoured e-liquids to stay off cigarettes are going to return to smoking in large numbers. The majority of those who don't will turn to black market e-liquids, and we all now understand the dangers of an unregulated black market.”
The bill that introduced the ban and tax also introduced swinging fines, with legislators believing that would act as a deterrent to illegal juice resellers.
The bill states: "A person who knowingly purchases or possesses an electronic nicotine delivery system not manufactured, purchased or imported by a licensed electronic nicotine delivery system distributor or licensed electronic nicotine delivery system retailer shall…be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 for the first offense and not more than $25,000 for a second or subsequent offense."
Will these proposed fines curtail juice sales? Not according to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Illegal Tobacco Task Force
The special agent in charge of the investigation for the task force gave testimony last month, and concluded that it will lead to, “an increase in smuggling activity and black-market sales.”
He continued: “I’m concerned that placing an added burden and tasking law enforcement with the enforcement of flavour bans will only stand to create a significant new black market, this includes both cross-state border smuggling and counterfeit tobacco. At the onset, you’ll start to see an increase between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in smuggling and illegal importation via the internet of counterfeit flavoured cigarettes from countries including China and Paraguay. They will skyrocket almost incredibly instantaneously.”
The furore surrounding the Vitamin E Acetate lung incidents last year, where people used illegal marijuana pods, was the driving force behind Massachusetts’ action – but they failed to appreciate that it was because a black market was operating and, in ushering in these swinging measure, they will create a brand new illicit market that will present its own problems.
It’s time for Massachusetts to have a ground-up rethink in how it approaches a reduction in tobacco-related harm, and it starts with embracing vape technology, not criminalising it.