Flavored tobacco products mixed with school supplies. The South Portland City Council held a workshop meeting Oct. 11 to discuss an ordinance that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Courtesy image/California Department of Public Health

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council held a workshop meeting Oct. 11 to discuss an ordinance that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. At the invitation of councilor Misha C. Pride, several speakers attended the meeting to present on the topic, including Rebecca Boulos, a South Portland resident and executive director of the Maine Public Health Association, Laura Blaisdell, South Portland resident and board president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Lee Anne Dodge, SoPo Unite program director.

The issue was discussed in city council meetings in spring 2019. Ultimately, the issue was removed from workshop as it was expected the Food and Drug Administration would ban flavored tobacco products, which has not yet happened. Since then, Portland and Bangor have both banned flavored tobacco products. Pride requested the ban to once again be workshopped. On Oct. 11, the council workshopped a draft ordinance based on the one used in Portland.

The concerns of flavored tobacco stem from youth usage and addiction. “In general, there’s an age at which people don’t start smoking,” Pride said. “They don’t start past age 25. And so, the only way we’re going to get new tobacco users is people who are caught young and flavored tobacco is an effort to do that … It’s an effort to target young users. And it’s something I think we need to end.”

According to Boulos’ presentation, Maine smoking results in $811 million in direct health care costs, 2,400 people die from smoking-related illness, and the industry spends $45 million on product marketing. One Juul pod has about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. The marketing, flavors, and use of electronic smoking devices serve to hook kids and teens on tobacco products. The age range heavily uses these products. Additionally, they visually appear in a way that does not make their reason obvious.

“The flavored e-cigarettes come in packaging that look like regular school supplies … you can imagine opening your kid’s school drawer and seeing a bunch of these items, you wouldn’t immediately notice that there are flavored e-cigarettes in there,” said Boulos.

According to the presentation, menthol products are promoted, which are the most dangerous, as they numb the throat and hide the taste of tobacco, making it easier to inhale. The products also cause environmental damage. The marketing especially targets African American and LGBTQ individuals. Tobacco retailers and marketing exists more in areas near these communities and the youth, such as near schools.


“If children and adolescents do not start smoking, they will not become smokers. They will not become part of the 50 percent of smokers that die an early death,” said Blaisdell. “Flavored tobacco targets this critical time of development” for young brains.

The concern is especially strong, as tobacco not only affects brain development but sets up individuals for years of addiction, both to tobacco as well as other substances. “Ninety percent of addiction begins before someone is 18,” said Dodge. “So, if we teach it good stuff, it will stick. If we teach it not good stuff, it will stick.”

After the presentations, there was a time for public speakers, in which arguments for and against the ban were represented. It was pointed out that the ban could just result in an unregulated market for the products, or that individuals might just switch to regular cigarettes.

“As a retailer of nearly 40 years in the city of South Portland, I feel as though we are doing our job quite well with preventing the sale to underage children,” said Rose West, a South Portland resident and business owner. “… and I really don’t feel as though banning these items are going to do the trick. Because people are going to go to neighboring communities … you’re just driving business away from us. We’re doing our job. Let us continue to do our job. And let these people continue to do theirs in the education and in the parenting role.”

Many speakers voiced their thoughts at the workshop, and all avenues of the issue were explored, such as whether the ban is too broad, which specific issues and people the ordinance would target, and how to best protect the youth and help individuals struggling with addiction.

Councilor Sue Henderson commented on the subject, but made it clear that the issue of addiction, as well as the responsibilities of the council, run much deeper than the ordinance. “I think we had wonderful presentations from experts in the field of health and public health. And I don’t think that we can overlook those and ignore those,” Henderson said. “The world is not perfect. I think if we ban the product here the kids will get them somewhere else. But it may be harder for them to get it here. And we’re trying. And we’re trying to send a message. I think that the problem of addiction is a huge problem.

“This is not going to be a (solution) that’s gonna fix the world. I think the businesses will still sell other products and I hope will be OK. And so I will support this. But I want to play the devil’s advocate and say as a nurse the world is not safe for our children. And if we pass this tonight, we shouldn’t even kid ourselves that the world is safe for our children. You know, 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 passing out from opioids. And they don’t have access to mental health care or substance abuse care. And until we give a damn about those children, then we’re going to still have children getting addicted to stuff. We have kids with housing insecurity, and as a council we have not committed to solve that problem in the short run. And we have food insecurity, and we have poverty, and we have global warming, and I think our kids can go and buy an automatic weapon easier than they can buy a vape. So, until we stop that, you know, and if our kids’ brains aren’t developed for judgment until their late 20s, how is it OK to teach them to go to kill in war at age 18? So come on, world, we have a lot to do. And I’ll vote to pass this, but don’t try to tell me that we’ve made a nice world. Because our world is pretty bad.”

Mayor Deqa A. Dhalac expressed sympathy for the businesses that would be affected, but supported the ordinance for protecting the youth. “We want to support our small businesses. We really want to support you. But when you are selling things that could be endangering children’s lives it puts us in a really small space to make a choice,” Dhalac said. “I would love to work with all our business community for this. If there is any way that we can do some compromise, I’d be more than happy to do it, but in the meantime, I’m supporting [the ordinance] in front of me tonight, because I’m thinking about those children.”

The council decided to move forward with a consideration of the ordinance, though it may change slightly. The first reading of the ordinance will occur in early December.

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