We have seen repeatedly how prohibition has failed and how the legalization and regulation of products, including alcohol, cannabis and gambling, has produced much-needed tax revenue and crucial funding to fight addiction.

Yet, on tobacco and nicotine, there are some well-intentioned folks ignoring history and turning the clock backwards with policies that will have disastrous unintended consequences.

Recently, Augusta City Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen penned a letter making several excellent points regarding the ill-conceived pursuit of local and statewide flavored tobacco bans. Among them was that prohibition simply shifts demand to other markets and robs adults of evidence-based harm reduction products.

It’s puzzling why some still haven’t learned that prohibition is proven to fail. The reason is simple: Banning products with demand does not eliminate that demand, but rather pushes it to available markets.

Alcohol prohibition was conceived on the idea of regulating morality but was repealed after a calamitous 13-year run. Organized crime thrived in the lucrative black market by smuggling, producing, and distributing illegal alcohol. Their work was made easier by inadequate enforcement, and public disregard and defiance of the law. Tax revenues dropped and consumption of unregulated and dangerous homemade alcohol increased, leading to health issues and death.

The exact same outcome can be expected with a ban on flavored tobacco, and there is ample current data to prove it. Massachusetts, which rushed to ban flavored tobacco in 2020, simply created a cross-border smuggling industry that has robbed the state of millions in tax revenue as untaxed products freely flow into the state and onto the streets for sale. Worse is that the Massachusetts ban has had little to no impact on youth smoking.


Ironically, Maine and 20 other states have legalized cannabis because the war against that product has failed in the face of enormous public demand. Today, it is taxed, regulated, and sold through licensed retailers, and can be purchased in hundreds of forms and flavors. Like alcohol prohibition was repealed, so was marijuana. The notion a ban on flavored tobacco will have a different outcome is nonsensical and simply not based on reality.

Just like alcohol and cannabis, tobacco has enormous market demand. If flavored tobacco is banned in Maine, it will continue to be found where it remains legally available (i.e. New Hampshire and other states), online and the illicit market. State sales and excise tax will be avoided, and a door will be opened for something sinister – homemade and unregulated products. Look no further than Massachusetts, where law enforcement is now faced with gangs selling menthol cigarettes on the streets to fund other criminal enterprises.

A ban also robs Mainers of less harmful tobacco products like oral nicotine pouches and vapor. These nicotine products are used by thousands of adults to transition away from combustible cigarettes. Robbing adults of these products because some minors knowingly violate the law by purchasing tobacco also cheats them of an opportunity to use a legal product they enjoy in a less harmful manner.

Today, tobacco products are available through state-licensed retailers who collect taxes and are subject to enforcement and regulation. This ensures the products sold are legal and manufactured by reputable companies that work closely with the Food and Drug Administration. Rather than ban flavored tobacco, let’s enforce the laws we have on the books, since we know that works far better than prohibition.

Mainers should not repeat history and strike down prohibition efforts that will only bring more crime, cost the state millions and ultimately fail to curb youth and adult smoking.

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