The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

“This is just one of many tools we can use to create a better public health outcome for everyone,” said Councilor Tae Chong, who chairs the council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which approved the ban 3-0 in November. “Banning flavored tobacco isn’t the only strategy. Prevention and intervention and all those other things are going to come into play, but this is one way to help the overall health of our kids and also marginalized populations.”

The ordinance will take effect June 1, the same day a similar ordinance is scheduled to take effect in Bangor. Both municipalities are among more than 330 communities nationwide that have passed restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit that advocates to reduce tobacco use.

The American Lung Association, in a statement following the council vote, applauded the decision and urged the rest of Maine to take the same step.

“The city of Portland made a bold statement tonight when it acted to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products,” said Lance Boucher, assistant vice president for state public policy for the association, in the statement. “Not only did they take a stand to prioritize our kids’ health over tobacco industry profits, they sent a message to Augusta that Mainers are ready to leave tobacco behind.”

The council heard more than two hours of public comment on the ban from the public, including parents and public health experts who asked that they approve it.


“I think this is an opportunity for the city of Portland to take a leadership role along with the city of Bangor,” said Michael Bourque, a resident who said two of his four children, who are now in their 20’s or late teens, started vaping in middle school.

Bourque said vaping had a “special attraction” to his children when they were very young. “It was easy. It was discreet. It was cool and they were almost immediately addicted,” Bourque said. “Six years and eight years later it’s still a problem. Neither of them have been able to quit entirely.”

Elizabeth Nalli, a school nurse in Portland Public Schools, said hardly a day goes by in the district, as well as schools nationwide, where staff don’t have to intervene in instances of students smoking on school grounds. She asked the council to pass the ban.

“Almost universally the product of choice is vape pens designed to deliver flavored hits,” Nalli said. “The array of flavors is clearly designed to appeal to the palate of youth with flavors like mocha, Pop Tart, banana blast and cotton candy on top of the traditional menthol flavors.”

Businesses and tobacco industry advocates argued that the ban is overly broad and that flavored tobacco products should remain available for adults. They said a ban would only send customers to other communities to make their purchases.

Chris Jackson, who said he owns a tobacco specialty store in the city, suggested that the city explore alternatives to a ban, such as allowing specialty stores that only allow customers 21 and up to enter to continue selling flavored tobacco products.


“What is the actual cost of this ordinance going to be?” Jackson asked. “And not just in monetary value, (what is) the loss of businesses, the loss of jobs? Who’s going to enforce this? … I believe we’re jumping into this a little too soon.”

Lisa Walters, manager of The Quality Shop, a convenience store on Stevens Avenue, said in an interview before Monday’s meeting that she also thinks the ban is a bad idea. About 30 to 40 percent of sales at the store are flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. “It’s going to drive business outside of Portland, which is going to hurt all the small businesses,” Walters said.

She suggested employers take a harder stance on checking ID’s and refusing sales to underage customers as an alternative way to keep tobacco out of the hands of youth. “Small businesses are already hurting with staff shortages and this is just going to hurt them even more,” Walters said. “I think employees should be more educated and have more confidence when they’re approached by a minor or a minor with a fake ID.”

While councilors expressed support for the ban, some also said they struggled with the idea of prohibition. “The thing I was getting stuck on was trying to find some common-sense solutions with harm reduction and education rather than prohibition,” Councilor Victoria Pelletier said. “I still don’t know that outright prohibition is really the best policy.”

Pelletier said she was swayed to support the ban because it would be the best for kids in her district. “By moving forward with the ban, I’m asking, ‘Do I even have a percentage of a chance to help protect the kids at King and Reiche (schools), especially the Black and brown kids?” Pelletier said.

The new ordinance defines a flavored tobacco product as “any tobacco product that imparts a taste or smell, other than the taste or smell of tobacco, either prior to, or during the consumption of, a tobacco product, including, but not limited to, any taste or smell relating to fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, or any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb, or spice.”


It applies to any natural or synthetic tobacco or nicotine products intended to be consumed by inhalation, absorption or ingestion by any other means. That includes flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff.

Cannabis products are excluded, unless they contain, or are made of or derived from, tobacco and nicotine.

Violations of the ordinance would carry fines of $100 to $500 for each offense.

The Brunswick Town Council also is considering a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products and will hold a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 22. Councilor Kathy Wilson, who is sponsoring the proposal, said that as a former smoker, she knows how addictive nicotine can be.

“I think this vaping, which sucks in the kids, is just not the right thing for us to be doing as responsible adults,” Wilson said. “I know a couple people have said, ‘I quit smoking and I’m vaping.’ We’re not taking away vaping. It’s the flavored tobacco we’re going after.”

Maine lawmakers, too, are considering a statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, is sponsoring a bill, L.D. 1550, that passed out of the Legislature’s Committee on Health and Human Services last year and was carried over to the current session.

Meyer said Monday that she expects her bill to come up for a House vote this spring, though a vote has not yet been scheduled.

As a registered nurse, Meyer said she too has seen the impacts of nicotine addiction, which often starts in childhood. She said recent polling in Maine has shown a majority of residents would like to see restrictions placed on the sale of flavored tobacco products and that passing a ban on a statewide level will “level the playing field” for municipalities.

“As municipalities one by one go in this direction, we as state lawmakers need to take a good hard look at what our constituents are saying and what our municipalities are doing and listen to the people who are placing public health over tobacco industry profits,” Meyer said.

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