It’s 2023. Not a drop of alcohol has touched the lips of an American citizen for 103 years. After the 18th Amendment was ratified, everyone willfully gave up booze without a fight.

Flavored tobacco products displayed in a store. John Terhune/The Forecaster, File

In fact, Americans were so willing to surrender to Prohibition, police never had to enforce the federal and state laws that followed. There was no bootlegging, mobs or other organized crime. Americans knew there was nothing they could do to evade the new rules so they complied.

This narrative is, of course, nonsense.

It took merely 13 years for the 21st Amendment to come along and end national Prohibition. But the episode took a tremendous toll on our nation. It’s estimated the policy resulted in $11 billion in lost tax revenue, cost more than $300 million to enforce and resulted in countless lives lost. And that’s only at the federal level – it’s impossible to quantify the true cost across all states and their individual jurisdictions.

By all accounts, Prohibition was a catastrophic policy failure. So too will be government efforts to ban flavored tobacco.

One need only look at Massachusetts to understand the fallout and unintended consequences of prohibitionist policy. Since the Bay State’s flavored tobacco ban went into effect in June 2020, the policy simply has not produced what its supporters promised.


Did tobacco use disappear? No. While sales in Massachusetts fell 24%, other states in New England – primarily New Hampshire (22%) and Rhode Island (18%) – saw significant increases. Rather than give up flavored tobacco, Bay Staters simply crossed the border to buy their preferred product elsewhere.

In the first year, Massachusetts saw tobacco excise tax collections drop by 22%, or $114.2 million. Since the start of the ban, the state has lost out on approximately $233 million in excise tax revenue. The absence of that revenue means the state relies more on income, sales and other taxes to make up the difference.

Additionally, considerable public resources are now being dedicated to enforcement as a result of the ban. Given the great tobacco tax disparity between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, smuggling has become more prevalent than ever before.

The Massachusetts Illegal Tobacco Tax Force’s latest report shows inspections have risen 42% over the last two years. Contraband cigarette seizures increased from 40 packs in 2021 to 1,972 last year while illicit smokeless tobacco seizures jumped 800%. In total, law enforcement has seized 23,860 packs of cigarettes, 53,655 tins of smokeless tobacco, 381,670 cigars, 5,351 bags of smoking tobacco, and 178,531 vaping products since enforcement began.

Is this really the best use of law enforcement time and resources?

Of course we don’t want kids ingesting any harmful substances. But it’s difficult to understand the rationale behind forbidding less harmful vaping products while keeping traditional cigarettes on the shelves. In Massachusetts, this has been taken one step further; making cannabis legal while simultaneously making flavored tobacco illegal.

Efforts to save the next generation from the harms of vaping will cause the state to lose out on hundreds of millions in tax revenue. Public safety resources and personnel will be diverted from actual crime and misallocated to seizing cherry-flavored dip and cotton candy vapes rather than drugs and other toxins. The ban will turn menthol cigarette smokers and cinnamon-flavored Zyn users into career criminals.

There is no good to come from flavor bans in Maine. But don’t take our word for it. Look at the example set by Massachusetts in the last two years and our nation’s long history with Prohibition.

History shows us that harm reduction, not prohibition, is the policy solution.

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