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Measure would ban flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, in Maryland

Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, speaks in support of a measure to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, during a news conference Thursday in Annapolis. (Brian Witte/AP)

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the state's attorney general expressed support Thursday for a measure to ban flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes.

Darryl Barnes, who chairs the black caucus, said menthol is a flavor that has been heavily targeted at black communities.

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“Flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, are particularly dangerous because they are designed to soften the harsh taste of tobacco, hook new tobacco users and can lead to use of other tobacco products,” Barnes said at a news conference before a bill hearing in the House Economic Matters Committee.

Studies have shown menthol cigarettes are consumed disproportionately by young people and minorities, and anti-tobacco groups and health experts have argued menthol has been marketed in particular to African Americans.

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The Maryland bill would ban any tobacco product, including vaping products, that has a taste or smell other than that of tobacco. That includes tobacco with a taste or smell of fruit, menthol, mint, a candy or dessert, or an herb or spice.

Supporters of the ban say the flavors like bubble gum entice children.

“We're tired of seeing tobacco companies reinvent themselves to hook the next generation,” said Jocelyn Collins, of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

More than 2,600 people nationwide have been diagnosed with a vaping-related lung illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dozens of people have died. But advocates for the e-cigarette industry say vaping products save lives by helping smokers quit.

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“It’s a harm-reduction product," said Elmer Bailey, who owns The Vapor Emporium in New Market. "It’s a tool that you can use to get yourself from smoking cigarettes.”

A nationwide partial ban took effect Thursday, after Republican President Donald Trump’s administration said last month that it would move to prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes. That, however, lets menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes remain on the market, and critics say it's full of loopholes.

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Last year, Massachusetts passed legislation to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes. It's set to take effect June 1. New Jersey approved a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products last month.

Maryland raised the smoking age last year from 18 to 21.

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