South Portland likely will enact a ban on flavored tobacco products next spring, joining Portland, Brunswick and Bangor in outlawing sales.

The ban, which the City Council first discussed in 2019, has resurfaced in light of a sharp increase in tobacco and e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students in the city. A draft of the ban largely focuses on the use of e-cigarettes, or vapes, among minors, and includes menthol products.

Councilors, medical professionals and residents voiced their support of the ban at a workshop Tuesday. Business owners who attended said the action is unnecessary because they already prevent flavored tobacco sales to minors, and that a ban would drive business out of the city.

In 2017, 9.6% of surveyed South Portland high schoolers reported using tobacco products, according to Lee Anne Dodge, program director of SoPo Unite, a community coalition working to prevent youth substance misuse. In 2021, 32.3% of high school students in the city claimed to use e-cigarettes, specifically. Over 10% of Memorial Middle School students and 7% of Mahoney Middle School students also reported using e-cigarettes in 2021.

According to Dodge, 90% of adults who are addicted to a substance started using before they turned 18, and the human brain is “best for learning” from ages 13 to 20.

“If we teach it good stuff, it will stick. If we teach it bad stuff, it will stick,” she said. “Young people do not start with opioids. They start with nicotine, cannabis and alcohol.”


Tobacco withdrawal symptoms have a negative impact on students’ ability to learn, said Dr. Laura Blaisdell of South Portland, board president of the Maine Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The withdrawal symptoms of irritability, restlessness, poor concentration, difficulty getting along with family and others, and intense cravings, is something I’ve seen in my practice,” Blaisdell said. “Something that I would really love (is) to take a more preventive stance in not allowing kids to be targeted by flavored products and get addicted in the first place.”

The tobacco industry has developed more than 15,000 flavored products and markets them to youths,  said Dr. Rebecca Boulos of South Portland, the executive director of the Maine Public Health Association. “These products come in a range of flavors, including winter menthol, peppermint mocha, cherry crush, banana blast, Pop Tart, and cotton candy,” she said.

South Portland has 40 tobacco retailers, Boulous said, and most “are located within areas where kids spend their time, whether that’s schools or parks or churches, playgrounds,” she said. “The industry uses these tactics because they work: 85% of youth and 90% of adults who use e-cigarettes use flavored products.”

Rose West, owner of Broadway Variety, told the council that her store does not sell flavored tobacco products to minors.

“As a retailer of nearly 40 years in the city of South Portland, I feel as though we’re doing our job quite well with preventing the sale to underage children,” said West, who also lives in South Portland. “I really don’t feel as though banning these items is going to do the trick. I just feel as though this is the wrong approach.”


West and other business owners are also concerned that a ban includes menthol cigarettes, which could drive business out of South Portland. Some also said e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes and are beneficial to the adults  who switch to them.

However, resident Jeff Steinbrink said promoting e-cigarettes as healthier than regular cigarettes holds no weight.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “We’re selling a health product here because it helps us go from something really, really bad to something maybe not quite so bad? That line of reasoning really doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutinizing.”

Resident Pedro Vazquez emphasized the need to put the health of young people ahead of businesses.

“The folks who are coming in here tonight to oppose the ban of this flavored tobacco are folks who have a financial stake in it,” Vazquez said, “folks who profit from the sale of candy-flavored poison to human beings.”

Christopher Jackson, owner of Portland Smoke & Vape, which has a store on Broadway, took exception.


“As far as putting profits in front of health, that’s not why we got into this business,” Jackson said.

“Here’s a stack of IDs,” he said, taking out a stack thicker than a deck of playing cards. “They are all fake, but they are darn good. My staff has to vet these customers. Someone looks suspicious, they come in, Maine (license) plates, they show a Rhode Island ID, a Pennsylvania ID.”

Councilors spoke in favor of a ban, including Councilor Susan Henderson who said she was still concerned children would just go to other towns to buy flavored tobacco products.

“I think if we ban the product here, the kids will get them somewhere else, but it may be harder,” Henderson said. “We’re trying to send a message.”

The problem of addiction in South Portland will not be fully solved with a flavored tobacco ban, she said.

“We’re going to pass this and feel all good about ourselves, and we have countless kids whose parents are getting drunk every night or are passing out from opioids, and they don’t have access to health care or substance-abuse care,” Henderson said. “Until we give a damn about those children, then we’re going to still have children getting addicted to stuff.”

The city will give a 30-day notice to business owners who sell flavored tobacco products ahead of the first reading on a ban, City Manager Scott Morelli said. The first reading is scheduled to take place in early December, with the goal of activating a ban in April 2023.

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