SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors postponed a vote May 14 on an ordinance that would have prohibited the sale of some flavored tobacco products.

Councilors on Tuesday also unanimously approved a first reading to prohibit the sale to and possession of tobacco products by individuals under the age of 21, effectively closing a gap in Maine law that hiked the age to buy tobacco to 21, but still allowed smoking at 18. The ordinance will go to a second reading and approval at the May 28 council meeting.

The delay on restricting sales of flavored tobacco products, first discussed Feb. 7, came at the urging of Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett, who said the proposal lacked clarity and definition.

Councilors Misha Pride and Maxine Beecher both said they believe flavored tobacco products are an “epidemic” in schools.

But business owners said the councilors’ good intentions are misguided, and businesses owners and residents alike on Tuesday said the language of the proposal was too confusing and broad.

“The problem isn’t all electronic devices. It’s more the closed-pod systems, with separate flavor pods for purchase,” Chris Jackson, owner of Portland Smoke & Vape Shop at 585 Broadway, said.

The pre-filled closed-pod systems are small vapes that use cartridges pre-filled with e-liquid. Common brands include Juul, MyBlue and PHIX. 

Jackson whose business sits in close proximity to Mahoney Middle School, also said “there needs to be that distinguishing vocabulary, instead of just sticking a Band-Aid on the issue and say you can’t have this. It will force small businesses out of the area.”

Attorney Peggy McGehee, who spoke on behalf of Jackson and Portland Smoke &  Vape co-owner Mark Scott, said the decision to completely ban flavored tobacco products would not help keep them out of the hands of children, because minors are already prohibited from buying the products.

The ordinance would have banned any sales of additives “other than the taste or aroma of tobacco, menthol, mint or wintergreen,” to buyers of any age in the city after Sept. 1. There have been three workshops on the topic since Feb. 5, but Daggett still wasn’t comfortable with suggesting a vote on it.

“I don’t think you can approve first reading of this amendment. The language just isn’t here,” she said. “I think it will involve new definitions and tweaking existing ones. I’m not comfortable trying to do that on the fly, quite frankly. We need more information on what a pod is defined as in order to work it into the amendment.”

Councilor Kate Lewis said while the ordinance seems to have good intentions, prohibition is not a great strategy. She used the example of heroin, noting it’s illegality doesn’t stop people from overdosing at high rates in Maine and across the U.S.

In discussion by residents, Justin West of Broadway Variety said the ban would unfairly penalize law-abiding members of the community. He echoed Jackson’s sentiment, saying businesses wouldn’t remain in the city if more restrictions are implemented. He suggested the council follow state laws and not “step above and beyond them.”

After a couple of attempts to amend the ordinance to specify the type of flavored tobacco products that would be banned, councilors chose to postpone any action.

Daggett is expected to make changes to the ordinance to retain only the ban on closed, pre-filled pod delivery systems, with the exception of menthol, mint or wintergreen. It will be brought back to the council on May 28 for a public hearing and final action.

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

Chris Jackson displays different vape products to South Portland city councilors May 14. The co-owner of Portland Smoke & Vape on Broadway said a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products was overly broad and unclear.

filed under: