Massachusetts Ban on Flavored Tobacco: Unintended Consequences

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Ulrik Boesen has a simple yet fascinating blog post for the Tax Foundation about Massachusetts’ ban on flavored tobacco products.

He writes about a medical study that found that after Massachusetts banned flavored tobacco products, sales declined. Obviously.

But Boesen points out that doesn’t mean the ban worked, if the goal was to reduce tobacco consumption, because people can just buy from other states. That’s especially true of Massachusetts, a small state by land area with multiple border states within reasonable driving distance for most residents.

And sure enough, while tobacco sales declined by 24 percent in Massachusetts in the twelve months after the flavored-tobacco ban was enacted, Boesen finds that tobacco sales increased by 22 percent in New Hampshire and by 18 percent in Rhode Island. New Hampshire even has the added bonus of no sales tax, and many Massachusetts residents shop there for other things anyway.

Looking at New England as a whole, Boesen finds that total sales were about the same for the region before and after Massachusetts’ ban. Unless we are to believe that huge numbers of New Hampshire and Rhode Island residents picked up smoking in the past two years, it seems clear that Massachusetts’ ban had no effect on tobacco consumption.

Boesen writes, “The end result of the ban, in fact, is that Massachusetts is stuck with the societal costs associated with consumption, while the revenue from taxing flavored tobacco products is being raised in neighboring states” — a lose-lose for Massachusetts that could have been avoided if only legislators had kept some basic economics in mind.

Dominic Pino is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute.