Pending legislation in Massachusetts that would ban gifts and giveaways at medical conventions and restrict pharmaceutical and medical device company marketing practices has caused at least one medical society to cancel a meeting in Boston and several others to scratch Boston off their lists of potential meeting sites.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, based in Milwaukee, canceled its 2015 annual meeting in Boston. In a letter to the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, AAAAI Executive Director Kay Whalen wrote: “The re-evaluation of Boston as an annual meeting destination was prompted by the current [proposed] laws in Massachusetts, which make it very difficult for AAAAI to receive sponsorship for and perhaps even provide continuing education credit for its annual meeting in Boston.”

Specifically, AAAAI would no longer be able to offer CME credits for poster and abstract sessions presented by industry representatives. Those sessions would not be in accordance with Accreditation Council for CME regulations, which the Massachusetts law says that all meetings in the state must adhere to. (This year in Washington, D.C., AAAAI will offer industry poster sessions, but not for CME credit.) Beyond that, said Whalen, it’s the uncertainty surrounding the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2009. “If they are starting down this path, what else is going to change?”

The AAAAI meeting attracts about 8,000 attendees and books 15,830 hotel room nights per year. The organization has only one signed contract at this point, but it will have to pay a cancellation fee unless the space is resold, says Whalen.

The Greater Boston CVB fears this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of this law may be devastating and outright chilling for the visitor economy of Boston, Cambridge, and Massachusetts and for the overall Massachusetts economy,” wrote GBCVB president and CEO Patrick Moscaritolo to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In the letter, dated January 19, Moscaritolo voiced the CVB’s opposition to the law and expressed fears that medical conventions will stay away from Boston unless there is more clarification of the law’s impact on conventions and sponsorships.

In 2009, Boston will host 26 citywide conventions (minimum of 2,000 rooms on peak night), 14 of which are medical conventions. Those 14 large medical meetings represent more than 240,000 room nights, $49 million in visitor spending, and $6.1 million in tax revenue, stated Moscaritolo. In 2007 and 2008, the city hosted about 2,500 medical meetings in total, generating more than 620,000 room nights.

While AAAAI is the only group so far to cancel, several other organizations have said they are avoiding Boston. One is the American Society of Gene Therapy, which informed the CVB that Boston was out of the running for its 2015 convention, primarily because of the law. Further, Whalen, who works for an association management company, Executive Director Inc., which manages several other medical associations, said that her AMC has other clients that are avoiding Boston because of this legislation.

The Heart Rhythm Society also informed the bureau that it was considering taking Boston out of its rotation. The society was planning to bring its 14,000-attendee meeting to Boston every three years. It came in 2006 and will again in May of this year, but meetings beyond 2009 are up in the air. Wrote Cathy Scheck, vice president of meetings at HRS, to the CVB: “In its current form, this law jeopardizes the Society’s and its industry partners’ [ability to conduct] what is customary and usual business through hosting CME-accredited educational programs that include a food-and-beverage component.” If the law is not changed, HRS may revisit its commitment to return to Boston every three years, she wrote.

While the law is set to take effect July 1, the final version has not yet been hammered out or approved. State lawmakers are accepting testimony and feedback from stakeholders and interested parties, with plans to finalize the law by the end of the first quarter.