The South Portland City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a ban that would remove flavored tobacco from store shelves in the city as soon as this spring.

The vote was 5-2. A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Under the proposed ordinance, the sale, marketing or display of flavored tobacco products is prohibited. Any tobacco products labeled or marketed as having a taste or smell other than that of tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, are subject to the ban.

Final approval next month will make South Portland the fourth Maine municipality with a flavored tobacco ban, joining Portland, Bangor and Brunswick.

While the ordinance would take effect Jan. 9, it cannot be enforced against tobacco retailers already selling flavored tobacco products in the city until April 1, giving them roughly three months to sell existing stock.

Councilors last week received over 900 postcards from South Portland registered voters who support the ban, a drive organized by Flavors Hook Kids Maine. Mayor Katherine Lewis said Tuesday that the sheer number of postcards makes clear residents’ views on the issue.


“I think that if I had received a thousand postcards, or seen evidence that there (were) a thousand postcards or signatures, from people who were saying ‘please don’t take this away, this is helping me in my life to transition away from things,’ then maybe I’d feel differently about this,” she said.

Leah Day, a mother of four and owner of Lighthouse Bikes in South Portland, told the council that one of her sons got hooked on nicotine via flavored tobacco products.

“He started stealing from me, he started stealing from Lighthouse Bikes, and he started stealing from his work just to get these vapes,” Day said. “I know it doesn’t affect everybody like this, but it was unbelievable what happened to him.”

Day said the reason for her son’s addiction is one that has been stated by health experts: e-cigarettes and vapes tend to have a higher concentration of nicotine. One Juul pod, for instance, has the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

“Vaping of flavored tobacco is much more discreet and easier to do, and this is the main reason they’re being used by kids,” said Russell Kaback, who told the council that his 14-year-old and 10-year-old children have seen their peers using flavored tobacco products.

Those who spoke out against the ban at Tuesday’s meeting were predominantly local tobacco retailers, including Chris Jackson, owner of  Portland Smoke & Vape, which has a store on Broadway.


“I do believe many of you, deep down, understand that banning these products within your city isn’t going to have a real effect within your community,” he said. “They’re going to find these products elsewhere.”

He and others against the ban said they were also concerned about how it would affect an adult’s right to choose what tobacco product they wish to use.

“What is the goal of this proposed ordinance, what do you hope to accomplish with it,” asked Owen Casas of the Maine Vapers Association. “Is it specific for youth, youth access and youth exposure, or is it for all individuals 21-plus and their ability to access something allowed by the state?”

Councilor Misha Pride said he supports the ban “wholeheartedly.” Because Portland already has a ban on the products, more people have been coming to South Portland to buy them, he said.

“Children are getting this from people who shop in South Portland. Let’s stop that,” he said. “Let’s end that and be the next domino to fall because when we do it, it gives permission to Westbrook to do it, it gives permission to Scarborough to do it. They don’t have to do it and worry that everyone is going to run to South Portland.”

Councilor Deqa Dhalac said  if adults want access to flavored tobacco products they can go to a neighboring town, but traveling to another town is a greater obstacle for minors and for  “their 18- or 21-year-old friends” that are buying the products for them. She is also concerned with how tobacco companies market their flavored products.


“There has been evidence-based research that these products do attract and target, more so, people of color, as well as other minorities, LGBTQ+ community members, and they die of that,” Dhalac said.

Councilor Richard Matthews, who voted against the ban, said the council may be overstepping its bounds.

“Do I want to protect children? Sure, I’ve been doing it for the past 12 years,” he said in reference to his tenure on the South Portland School Board. “This is total overreach, to tell Grandpa Joe ‘you can no longer smoke your flavored tobacco in a pipe.'”

Councilor Linda Cohen also voted against the ban.

“I’m not feeling like I can tell someone who’s 50, 60, 70 years old that ‘I’m sorry, you just can’t get it anymore,'” she said.

“It’s their body, their choice, and I’m not going to tell them they can’t get it in South Portland.”

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