Massachusetts law enforcement officials are reporting that illicit e-cigarette smuggling has seen a meteoric rise over the course of last year. This comes after the 2019 Tobacco Control Law criminalized the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes. More than 200,000 electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) were seized by state police and members of the Multi-Agency Illegal Tobacco Task force in 2021, setting a record in the state’s rate of tobacco smuggling.
Two years ago, the state passed suffocating legislation that enacted sweeping regulations on the electronic cigarette industry, banning all flavored products and imposing a 75% excise tax on all ENDS. These laws were passed in denial of scientific studies proving that electronic cigarettes are 95% less harmful than traditional combustible cigarettes and are the most effective method of getting smokers to quit.
Massachusetts state legislators also ignored data which shows that regulation on tobacco products is directly correlated with increased rates of tobacco smuggling – a black market industry which the United States Department of Defense has called “a threat to national security.” The growth of illicit ENDS trading was extremely predictable, given that the neighboring states like Rhode Island and New Hampshire lack the same unscientific restrictions on those products. As Americans for Tax Reform has repeatedly warned, regressive regulations on reduced harm tobacco alternatives invariably leads to higher rates of smuggling.
Rather than reversing course, Massachusetts law enforcement has doubled down on a failed policy. In attempts to claim unrealized tax revenue, a new law has declared that anyone caught smuggling ENDS from out of state can be fined up to $25,000 and be subject to seizure of vehicles used in smuggling procedures. Instead of admitting defeat the state of Massachusetts has decided to enact authoritarian measures to enforce a ridiculous law.
Data continuously shows that flavor bans have adverse effects on public health. After San Francisco banned flavored vape products in 2019, youth smoking rates more than doubled in the city. Similarly, every state in New England saw a jump in cigarette sales after each of them made the decision to enact flavor bans enacted in a year where smoking rates were projected to decrease. These northeastern states still have less regulation than Massachusetts, thus providing the source for tobacco smugglers to quickly cross state borders. As a result, it is estimated that the state has lost $10 million in tax revenue – which is no doubt instead flowing into less restrictive states.
The effort to crack down on illicit trade is commendable, however Massachusetts officials are ultimately being forced to respond to a crisis they themselves created. Amidst the rise in general crime nation wide, law enforcement cannot afford to be distracted by unenforceable and harmful laws like this. Scientific data, lost revenue, and a rise in crime make the path forward clear. While legislators may suffer a hit to their pride, it is in the interest of public health, safety, and the state budget that Massachusetts repeal this disastrous prohibition.