Velis votes against flavored tobacco ban

State Rep. John C. Velis. (file photo)

BOSTON – State Rep. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, crossed party lines Nov. 13 to vote against a bill banning flavored tobacco.
Velis was one of five or six Democrats in the House who joined their Republican colleagues in voting against bill H 4183, banning the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products and imposing an excise tax on e-cigarettes.
The House passed the bill 126-31.
Velis said the bill was originally a ban on flavored vaping products.
“If this were a straight vote on whether to ban vaping, I would have supported it,” Velis said shortly after the vote Wednesday. Velis cited the short-term effects of vaping on health as his main reason for supporting the original bill.
“The bill got changed and it was not only a vaping bill, but was a ban on all flavored tobacco,” he said. “I looked at that and said we should pause and analyze it.”
Velis said health concerns aside, there is a financial impact to consider.
“This would send revenue to our border states,” Velis said.
He was also concerned that if one of the goals of the ban is to protect children, there were other things to consider, such as imposing fines for advertising products where children could see them.
“There’s no one who will do more to protect our kids than me when it comes to voting,” he said, “but if it’s all about protecting kids, why not impose fines? When does it stop?”
Velis said it is not the job of legislators to be “the moral and virtue and vice police.”
“Why not ban all tobacco, or sugar or saturated fats and anything that’s bad for you?” he said.
While driving to the Statehouse Wednesday, Velis said he received a call from a constituent who pointed out that if the bill passes, it will be easier get a marijuana cigarette than a menthol cigarette.
“If it’s about protecting kids, there are better ways to do it that what was done today,” said Velis.
According to State House News, Rep. Christopher Hendricks, a first-term Democrat from New Bedford, filed an amendment to strip the menthol ban from the bill, but withdrew it with no discussion, then voted against the bill.
Two amendments were voted down, including one that would have allowed adult-only retail tobacco shops to sell flavored tobacco and vaping products, and another that would have established a civil penalty of up to $100 for people under 21 found in possession of tobacco or marijuana products.
The Democrat-controlled House also rejected a Republican bid to send the bill back to committee for further analysis of its costs. Velis said he supported that amendment.
State House News reports that “the bill will next go to the Senate, where President Karen Spilka has indicated an interest in taking up vaping-related legislation before the Legislature breaks for a recess on Nov. 20.
“All flavored tobacco, including mint and menthol, in vaping and combustible forms would be forbidden from stores and online in Massachusetts under the House bill. Businesses that violate the new regulations could have their state lottery licenses suspended.”
If it passes, Massachusetts will be the first state to impose such a ban.

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