Minnesota policymakers should learn from Massachusetts on banning flavored tobacco

A bill was recently introduced in the Minnesota house of representatives to ban flavored tobacco and other related products. According to the sponsor of the bill, this is in an effort to curb the use of flavored tobacco products.

There is no doubt this bill has good intentions behind it. However, this does not mean that the bill will work as intended. Policymakers in Massachusetts have already learned their lesson.

According to the Tax Foundation,

Seven months into Massachusetts’ flavor ban, early data is available for the real-world effects. If we only look at Massachusetts, the figures may look like a public health success story at first: sales of cigarette tax stamps in the Bay State have declined 24 percent comparing June-November 2020 to the same months of 2019. In the first half of 2020, Massachusetts only experienced a decline of roughly 10 percent compared to the first half of 2019.

Those numbers would seem to back up the best argument for implementing a ban: limiting use of tobacco and nicotine. Unfortunately, if we dig a little deeper, it becomes evident that Massachusetts’ flavor ban has not limited use, just changed where Bay Staters purchase cigarettes. In fact, sales of cigarette tax stamps in the Northeast (Massachusetts as well as Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) have stayed remarkably stable, even increased a bit, following Massachusetts’ ban when compared to sales in 2019.

From June 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020, 230,797,000 stamps were sold in the region. For the same period in 2019, that number was 225,897,000. This slight increase trends against the national figures, where sales in 2020 were projected to decline around 2 percent. In other words, Massachusetts sales plummeted, but not because people quit smoking—only because those sales went elsewhere.

This should be a lesson to Minnesota policymakers that people do not always respond to the policy as expected. Much like a cigarette tax hike, banning flavored tobacco products will only drive Minnesotans to nearby states. If enacted this law will only hurt small businesses that sell flavored tobacco products while benefiting our neighbors.