Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products descended on the State House Tuesday to rally support, lobby lawmakers and testify during a public hearing.

Two similar bills, including one sponsored by state Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including mint, fruit, chocolate, vanilla and honey. The federal government currently bans flavors, except for menthol, in combustible cigarettes, but allows them in vaping products. Some Maine cities and towns have passed local measures to ban sales of flavored vaping tobacco, including Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Rockland.

Julia Ryan, a 17-year-old senior at Bonny Eagle High School, went to Augusta to support the ban. While she has personally avoided vaping products, she has seen fellow students lured into addiction by flavors, Ryan said in an interview.

“I’ve seen it affect people’s lives, and (they) become completely changed,” said Ryan, who plays on the high school lacrosse team and joined the Flavors Hook Kids Maine campaign to lobby for the bills. “Students who played three sports, and were in the honors program have just completely fallen off and lost motivation. All they want to do is smoke.”

Ryan said the flavors play a huge role. “There’s cotton candy and cherry flavors, and (students) will say, ‘Yeah, cotton candy, I want to try that,’ ” she said.

Duson, during a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said “flavored tobacco is the beginning of the end for many young people in Maine. These products are an accessible stepping stone on the road to addiction.”


Democratic leaders are supporting the bills. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – whose leaders are part of the Mills administration – testified in favor of the bills Tuesday.

Bill supporters say the flavors are added to the products to attract teens and get them hooked on nicotine, even though it is illegal for those under 21 to purchase vaping products. Opponents say the proposed ban would simply drive people out of state to buy flavored tobacco, which they argue should be available to adults who turn to vaping as a way to quit smoking.

Richard Rigazio, owner of The City Tobacco and Beverage Center in Sanford, said that a tobacco flavor ban would drive customers away.

“It is currently all too easy for the people around us to travel 15 miles to save money and buy their product in New Hampshire, as the cigarette tax rates are lower,” Rigazio said. “The number of customers we would lose to the nearby New Hampshire border due to a statewide flavor ban would greatly hurt our business.”

Peter Brennan, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, said in Massachusetts, where flavors and menthol are banned, the black market is thriving, and has resulted in losses of more than $100 million in tobacco excise taxes.

“Moving tobacco products out of the heavily regulated retail sales environment has been counterproductive,” Brennan said.


Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, California, Maryland and Utah have bans or some restrictions on the sale of flavored vaping products, with Massachusetts and California enacting the most comprehensive bans.

Although there is currently no fiscal note attached to the bill, opponents estimate more than $30 million in lost excise tax revenue to Maine. However, there are also cost savings over time, as people who avoid nicotine products are less likely to fall ill and cost the health system less money, proponents of the ban contend.

Jamie Cotnoir, associate director of disease prevention at the Maine CDC, said “cigarette smoking is linked to between 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths” and that tobacco use of all kinds cost the health care system in Maine more than $811 million in 2019.

Others pointed out that there’s additional costs to maintaining the status quo.

“Like other businesses, maintaining reliable staff across our locations is a top priority and a challenge for OTTO,” said Dd Allen, co-owner of OTTO Pizza. “Tobacco use among employees makes that even harder because they tend to be less healthy and call out sick more often. Having staff outside the entryways smoking or smelling of smoke when they interact with customers also doesn’t fit with OTTO’s values as a community and family-oriented brand.”

But Nick Murray, director of policy for the Maine Policy Institute, a right-leaning think tank, said that “a ban on flavored tobacco products will do very little to affect overall demand for these products or use rates in Maine. It will simply redirect sales outside the state, strip freedom of choice from consenting adults and result in a flourishing black market for these products.”


Duson, who is Black, noted that tobacco companies target Black communities with a marketing campaign to try menthol cigarettes.

“For over six decades, the tobacco industry has been marketing menthol cigarettes directly, systematically, and relentlessly to African Americans, particularly African American youth, and young adults,” Duson said. “These companies have co-opted music and culture, sponsored community events, provided free samples, offered lower prices in Black neighborhoods, promoted their products with magazine advertisements and retail promotions, and even recruited Black community leaders as industry defenders.”

In the 1950s, Duson said, less than 10% of Black adults who smoked, smoked menthol. Currently, it’s 85%.

An array of public health advocates, including pediatricians, dentists and the recovery community, testified in favor of the bill.

“I see every day the devastating effects of nicotine addiction,” said Dr. Scott Morin, a South Portland pulmonary and critical care physician. “I am particularly disturbed about the sale of flavored tobacco products that end up in the hands of adolescents and young users. Candy flavored nicotine is solely meant to create a new generation of nicotine addicts. We know that nicotine addiction created by smokeless tobacco products increases the risk of cigarette smoking, still the number one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

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