One of the best ways to improve public health in Maine is for adult smokers to stop smoking. Last week, I testified in front of the Health and Human Services Committee in response to a misguided bill that would prevent them from doing so.

Unfortunately, the bill would ban products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized as “appropriate for the protection of public health” or “appropriate to promote the public health” from Maine’s stores shelves, depriving smokers of options to help them leave cigarettes behind – the most harmful form of tobacco use.

The legislation in question, L.D. 1215, seeks to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products – including smoke-free alternatives that the FDA has comprehensively reviewed, authorized and concluded are better choices for adult smokers compared to cigarettes. The bill’s sponsors say they are doing it to reduce underage vaping.

As the former top scientist at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, I know this is a valid worry. However, it needs to be balanced against the risk that denying adults access to a range of authorized smoke-free alternatives may lead to more people in Maine needlessly continuing to smoke cigarettes.

Thankfully, youth tobacco use is declining across America. In 2019, a new federal law was enacted requiring individuals to be at least 21 years old to buy any tobacco product. Since then, youth cigarette smoking has sunk to a historic low of 1.6%. In fact, all forms of youth tobacco use have gone down. To that point, when I was at the FDA, a youth vaping epidemic was declared in 2018, but the most recent data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that youth vaping has dropped below the 2018 level.

Recently, FDA’s director of the Center for Tobacco Products, Dr. Brian King, acknowledged that there no longer is a youth use epidemic and that “the expectation that we’re going to get to zero – we’ve never seen that with anything – so that’s unrealistic.”


Unfortunately, this progress in deterring youth tobacco use is not being matched by a similar decrease in the number of adult smokers. According to public health data, 21% of Maine adults are cigarette smokers, and there are about 31 million smokers across America.

This data also show that, today, smoking remains the largest cause of preventable deaths in the United States. I know that dramatically reducing smoking rates in the U.S. is going to require a better understanding of the relative risks associated with tobacco and nicotine products. Educating adults who smoke about how smoke-free products are a better choice than continued smoking is critical.

Nicotine products authorized by the FDA have undergone an intensive scientific review. Banning these products simply ignores the robust science that is available.

The fact is that flavors appeal to adults. Millions of adults around the world have stopped smoking by switching to flavored innovative smoke-free products.

Banning flavors in smoke-free products will set Maine back and hurt the very tobacco users that the bill’s sponsors purport to want to help. If Maine legislators want a serious approach to address cigarette smoking, abandoning L.D. 1215 and rethinking how best to address the problem would be a good place to start.

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