By: Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – Feb. 2020
At the end of last year, the State Legislature passed two laws that will greatly benefit our public health and safety as we move into 2020: one to reduce distracted driving from cell phone use and one to protect youth from nicotine addiction.
A new law prohibits drivers from holding a cell phone or electronic device while driving.
The use of cell phones while driving has made our roads more dangerous, tragically resulting in injuries and deaths that should be easily preventable. Data thankfully indicates that driver cell phone use is beginning to decline, but we must accelerate this trend. In Massachusetts, texting while driving has been illegal for a decade, but as people have begun using their phones for navigation, music, and more, there needs to be a more comprehensive policy. This led the Legislature to join many other states in passing a hands-free driving law.
Drivers may interact with their phones through hands-free voice communication, as long as it only takes a single tap or swipe to activate voice communication. Phones may be used for navigation as long as they are mounted to the dashboard or windshield and only require a tap or swipe. The law includes exceptions for first responders and in cases of emergency.
The penalty for violating the law will be a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. A driver’s education course on distracted driving will also be required for a second or subsequent offense. Only a third or subsequent offense will affect one’s insurance. Starting February 23, 2020, warnings will be issued to those who violate this law, and full penalties will be issued starting March 31, 2020.
Vaping products are causing a new generation to become hooked on nicotine.
Another issue for public health and safety that warrants urgent attention is the sharp uptick in youth nicotine use through vaping products. For decades in Massachusetts, youth tobacco use was steadily declining – but due to the recent emergence of vaping devices, now 20% of Massachusetts high school students vape or smoke e-cigarettes. These teens are lured in by high doses of nicotine, over 8,000 kid-friendly flavors, and inexpensive prices.
Additionally, in recent months, over 40 people in the U.S. have died and more than 2,000 others have fallen ill from respiratory conditions that authorities have linked to vaping. The use of these products carries serious health risks.
In response, Governor Baker declared a public health emergency in September 2019 and issued a temporary ban on the sale of vaping products.
The Legislature then enacted first-in-the-nation legislation that requires licenses for vape retailers, steepens the penalties for selling vaping and tobacco products to minors, limits the nicotine content in vaping products, and bans the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products, including mint and menthol. The ban on flavored vaping product sales is now in effect, and the ban on menthol cigarette sales will take effect on June 1, 2020.
This law makes great progress toward protecting youth from the dangers of these highly addictive and high-octane nicotine products. At the same time, we recognize that we must expand resources to help individuals who are looking to quit their nicotine and tobacco use. To that end, the law requires health insurers, including MassHealth, to cover FDA-approved products and counseling services that help people to quit.
Because this law protects our youth from addiction while expanding resources for those looking to quit, it has the support of many public health groups in Massachusetts and across the nation, including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. This law is a win for our children and our public health that I hope other states will follow.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and serves as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380.