A bill currently under consideration by the Maine Legislature would ban the sales of flavored tobacco products statewide. On behalf of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, a trade association based in Brunswick that represents 300 member companies, including 70 percent of Maine’s 1,300 convenience stores – I strongly encourage the Legislature to reject this well-meaning but short-sighted proposal, L.D. 1550.

Singling out flavored tobacco products is not the answer. “Flavor Ban” legislation, as it is known, may sound like good policy, but history tells a very different story. A century ago, Prohibition failed miserably as illegal alcohol sales flourished and ultimately led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Today, with Maine’s legalization of marijuana products, including favorite child flavors like blueberry, grape and watermelon, we have seen first-hand that prohibition of these products for people over 21 did not work and that, ultimately, adults should be free to make their own decisions.

The sale of any tobacco product to those under the age of 21 is already illegal in the state of Maine! Yet, the central argument by those who support these bills is that flavored tobacco products are aimed directly at children, designed to entice and ultimately hook adolescents on e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, or wintergreen smokeless tobacco, and the only way to keep these products out of the hands of Maine’s youth is to outlaw them. However, this argument falls short because it fails to acknowledge that selling tobacco to minors is already against the law in Maine. In fact, in 2019, then-President Donald Trump signed national legislation prohibiting tobacco sales to anyone under 21. Today, Maine retail establishments must ID their patrons wishing to purchase tobacco products or electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes) and post signs stating that sales to minors are prohibited.

The bottom line is that the sale of any tobacco products to those under 21 years of age is already illegal – period. If indeed these products still find their way into the hands of those under 21, enforcement of existing law is the issue and passing additional legislation will not achieve the desired effect. What is needed is additional funding to provide law enforcement with the tools and personnel necessary to effectively enforce current Maine and federal laws, which ban the sale of all tobacco products to those under the age of 21. Given the tremendous budget surplus Maine now enjoys, appropriating the funds to aid enforcement should be an easy decision.

Passage of this bill would cause significant harm to retailers who struggle daily to comply with ever-evolving regulations, find employees, and overcome the ongoing economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The men and women who own and operate these critically important small businesses rely on sales of these products to create regular traffic in their establishments and go to painstaking efforts to ensure that any tobacco products do not get into the hands of underaged customers.

MEMA strongly supports and commends the effort to prevent young people from using tobacco products as well as the effort to help anyone who does use them, quit. However, making a product illegal under the guise of protecting our children, when it is already illegal for them to buy or possess it, will prove ineffectual in achieving its desired outcome while inflicting further economic damage on Maine’s convenience store operators.


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