Rows of wintergreen-flavored tobacco. Ben McCanna photo/Press Herald

South Portland City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in South Portland.

The ordinance will end the sale of tobacco products with “any taste or smell relating to fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, or any candy, desert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice” in South Portland.

The vote follows Portland, Brunswick, and Bangor making the same ordinance. On Oct. 11, the South Portland City Council held a workshop meeting on the issue, with a preliminary hearing that passed on Dec. 6. On Oct. 25, the council sent an official notice to all the licensed tobacco retailers in South Portland so that they were aware of the first reading on Dec. 6.

The ordinance will take effect immediately for retailers that do not currently have a state of Maine retail tobacco license. For existing retailers, it will become enforceable against them as of April 1. The extra time will allow existing retailers to sell their stock.

Flavored tobacco is criticized by opponents as marketing that targets youth use, setting up individuals for addiction.

“In general, there’s an age at which people don’t start smoking,” city councilor Misha Pride said at the Oct. 11 workshop. “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.”


Local retailers have expressed concern over the ban.

“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, at the workshop … 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.”

Some proponents also claimed that flavored tobacco products can be used as a way to transition off of tobacco use such as cigarettes.

Students, parents, and residents have advocated for the ban. On Nov. 24 residents gathered at the South Portland Community Center to advocate for a ban. On Nov. 29, more than 900 signatures, gathered on Election Day, were delivered to council members.

“We all know how addictive nicotine is and we know the history of tobacco companies using slick advertising to attract customers, despite knowing the health risks of their products,” said Catherine Curry, a South Portland resident, mother of two children in the South Portland school district, and pediatrician at Maine Medical Partners Portland Pediatrics, during the preliminary hearing. “What you may not know is how especially susceptible the adolescent brain is to addiction. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, it is more sensitive to the chemical and habitual changes that lead to addiction.”

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