The Maine House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill that would ban tobacco sales near schools, but it appears that only one store in the entire state would be impacted. And that store is Fresh Approach, a deli directly across Brackett Street from Reiche Elementary School in Portland’s West End. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Workers at Fresh Approach Meat Market scooped potato salad into takeout containers and stacked cold cuts on fluffy sandwich rolls just before the lunch rush on Wednesday. The smell of roast beef wafted through the linoleum aisles where chips, iced tea and other deli snacks are sold.

Hanging behind the register were a few containers of Advil, lighters and about a dozen packs of cigarettes.

It’s those cigarette cartons, a small part of this neighborhood deli’s business, that are the subject of a bill moving through the Maine Legislature. That’s because the store sits directly across the street from Reiche Elementary School in Portland’s West End.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland, would ban the sale of tobacco products within 300 feet of a school.

Fresh Approach is the only business in the state that meets that criterion.

“That business is in my district. This business sells tobacco 26 feet from my school and I would like that to stop,” Moonen told lawmakers on the House floor Tuesday night before a narrow 74-70 vote to pass the bill. The Senate is expected to vote on it any day.


A manager at Fresh Approach on Wednesday declined to speak with a reporter about the bill and an email to the business owners was not returned.


When the bill was filed at the beginning of the session, it proposed a ban on the sale of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools. In March, the Health and Human Services Committee approved an amendment lowering it to 500 feet. This week, the House again amended the distance to just 300 feet.

Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland, listens to a member’s comment during a work session last year. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In response to a series of questions about the changes, Moonen said in an email Wednesday that it was amended because of pushback from tobacco lobbyists and the Retail Association of Maine, who he said had concerns about how many businesses would be impacted.

Moonen said the original bill was crafted to match the existing laws prohibiting the sale of cannabis within 1,000 feet of schools. That would have impacted 42 retailers across the state. The 500-foot ban would have impacted just 10.

He said the change also aligns with existing state law that says alcohol cannot be sold within 300 feet of a school.


“It seems pretty modest to me to adopt this bill since we have similar laws for similar products that should not be accessible to kids,” Moonen said from the House floor.


Although a majority of House members voted to pass the bill Tuesday, many asked if it was too targeted.

“I think potentially putting one store out of business doesn’t do much to address the tobacco industry,” Rep. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, said Tuesday during the floor debate.

“It sounds like this should be held at a city council meeting,” said Rep. Lucas Lanigan, R-Sanford. “We’re using this Legislature to micromanage and to shut down a business in someone’s community?”

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, was the only representative who spoke in support of the bill, besides Moonen. “If there is one little thing I can do to get one less person addicted to tobacco, I would do it.”


The opposition from the tobacco industry was clear in written testimony submitted to the Health and Human Services committee in February.

“There are already sufficient laws in place to keep tobacco related products out of the hands of children and (I) believe that this law would take things too far and be detrimental to small Maine businesses,” wrote Adalaide Albright from Waldoboro, who works in the tobacco industry.

Matthew Allen, another tobacco industry worker, also submitted written testimony to the committee saying children are not in danger with the present laws.

“We card and scan for every single transaction,” he wrote. “We get a lot of grief from our customers over it but the simple truth is there is zero chance of us selling to a minor.”

Advocates from the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association submitted joint testimony to the committee in support of the bill.

“Too many youth are using tobacco products and tobacco companies continue to aggressively market these products to young people,” they wrote. “L.D. 2157 can reduce the number of places where tobacco products are sold, which makes it easier to keep these products away from kids.”

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