The debate about ending the sale of flavored tobacco products has made its way to Portland. We’re talking about flavored electronic cigarettes, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes.

After an effort to eliminate these harmful products statewide was put on hold last year, cities and municipalities are moving forward to make a positive change for our kids on their own. Bangor passed a citywide prohibition a few months ago, and the question will be put before the Portland City Council soon.

Personally, I’m not sure why there is a debate about this at all. I’ve seen the data, but I’ve also seen the effects of flavored tobacco products firsthand.

Together, my wife and I have four children, all recent high school graduates. They all had friends who took up vaping flavored tobacco and at least two of them joined in, not aware of the potential harm. Today, several years later, even though they fully realize the harm that can be done, they are having a hard time quitting. They’re addicted. Neither they, nor many of their friends, can stop.

My kids both started using flavored tobacco in their early teens. They became addicted quickly and it was rampant in school. Our schools know vaping is a problem, but can’t do much to stop it. Many kids who vape start at a young age, and it can be hard to detect. The devices are often sleek and discreet and can resemble school supplies, like a USB drive or a highlighter, so as a parent you don’t necessarily find anything that obviously points to your kids vaping. And there is no telltale smell of smoke like with regular cigarettes.

The tobacco companies continue to find new ways to market addictive nicotine products to young people to get them hooked. There is no doubt in my mind that flavored tobacco is marketed to this age group. For e-cigarettes, the packages are often colorful and bright. The tobacco companies market e-cigarettes in flavors like Orange Soda, Cotton Candy and Cherry Crush – flavors that our kids were asking for in the form of a lollipop or Popsicle just a few years ago.


Tobacco companies know that four out of five kids in the U.S. who have used tobacco started with a flavored product. They also know that 30 percent of Maine high school students use e-cigarettes, a rate that nearly doubled from 2017 to 2019. To parents and Mainers, those are scary statistics. To tobacco companies, those are opportunities. Opportunities to turn our children into nicotine addicts once again – reversing the progress we’d made over the past decade in reducing youth smoking. This is why the tobacco industry is spending $45 million a year on product marketing in Maine. They want to hook our kids on addictive, harmful products specifically designed to catch their attention.

Don’t let the tobacco industry do this. We can have conversations at home, and we can educate our kids about the harmful effects as much as we want. But we aren’t on a level playing field when the tobacco companies are allowed to sell products specifically designed to hook children on nicotine. It’s not fair, it’s harmful and it’s shameful.

Beyond the obvious health issues, as a society, we can’t turn our back on the costs related to these unhealthy activities. At the scale that teen vaping has been occurring, the future health care costs to us all could be staggering. While so much more is to be learned about the long-term impact, we already know about the damage nicotine addiction can do, we know that the inhalation of chemical particulates can scar the lungs and we know that opening the door at a young age to one form of addiction can make other, even more dangerous forms, more likely.

Portland has a chance to lead the way and end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in our city. I urge the City Council to do so, and to be a leader once again in doing the right thing.

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