South Portland parent Tara Pelletier calls for the South Portland City Council to enact a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products during a press conference Monday outside the high school. Also participating was BJ McAllister of Flavors Hook Kids Maine, left, and Pedro Vazquez, a South Portland parent and chairperson of the city’s Human Rights Commission. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

South Portland students, parents and health officials urged the City Council Monday to enact a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products.

“Our goal is to end the sale of flavored tobacco in Maine and here in South Portland,” BJ McAllister, campaign manager of Flavors Hook Kids Maine, said at a press conference the group organized outside the high school. “It’s no secret that tobacco companies target youth as young as middle-school age, and it’s disgusting to all of us.”

The City Council is expected to vote on preliminary approval of the ban early in December, with a final vote later that month. If approved, the ban would take effect in April 2023 and would prevent the sale of flavored tobacco products within the city, including flavored Juul pods, vape liquids and menthol cigarettes.

With flavors ranging from mint to Guava Ice and Cookies & Milk, there are more than 15,000 “kid-friendly flavors” for e-cigarettes, said Rebecca Boulos, a South Portland resident and executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.

“We know that 95% of adults who smoke start before they’re 21 years old,” she said. “Tobacco companies know that, too. That’s why these products are sold in packaging that looks like treats from the ice cream truck.”

A survey of South Portland students, presented to the council in October, showed a sharp climb in their tobacco product usage. In 2017, 9.6% of surveyed high schoolers claimed to use tobacco products. In 2021, 32.3% said they used e-cigarettes specifically. At the middle schools, 10% of Memorial students responding to the 2021 survey reported using tobacco products, and 7% of Mahoney students said they did.


“It’s stuff that I see in high school and know goes on at the middle school,” said Cassandra Porter, a junior, who attended the press conference in support of the ban.

“In this generation, we keep being told we’re the future of tomorrow, and we’re supposed to be good role models,” Porter told The Forecaster. “As these pressures are being put on us, people are also showing us this bright packaging with flavors that make it seem easier to escape and hide from those responsibilities, which can lead to lifelong consequences.”

Fellow junior Moumin Abdi said he sees classmates vaping at the high school.

“I do see it a lot, around bathrooms, and I know some people who vape a lot … People become more interested in vaping when you see flavored mango or flavored strawberries, and it makes you more likely to want to try it,” Abdi said. “I’m here to advocate for the ban.”

Many forms of e-cigarettes are small in design and easy to conceal. Tara Pelletier, a parent of a freshman and Mahoney middle schooler, said they are “intentionally disguised and designed to be hidden from parents and adults.”

“As a community, we have a choice,” she said. “We can end the sale of flavored tobacco products.”


Pedro Vazquez, the chairperson of the city’s Human Rights Commission, has three children who attend South Portland schools.

“I see how specifically my children, young persons of color, are targeted,” he said. “Their methods, their tactics, and the way in which they do business is disgusting to me. It attempts to hook kids on a lifetime of addiction to protect profits.”

Opponents of the proposed ban who have spoken at council meetings are predominantly owners of stores that sell tobacco products. They say the ban is unnecessary because the law already prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, and that they have systems in place to prevent minors from buying them, including flavored products. They also say menthol cigarettes should not be included in any ban.

Boulos said that half of youth who ever tried smoking began with a menthol flavor.

“Menthol flavoring masks the harsh taste of tobacco,” she said. “It also numbs the throat, making it easier to inhale more deeply, and causing even more severe lung damage.”

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