Maine moved one step closer to banning flavored tobacco products on Thursday, with the Health and Human Services committee voting to send a proposed ban to the full Legislature with an “ought to pass” recommendation.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, would ban flavors such as mint, fruit, chocolate, menthol, vanilla and honey in all tobacco, including vaping products. The federal government already bans flavors, except for menthol, in combustible cigarettes, but allows them in vaping products. Some Maine cities and towns, including Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Rockland, have passed local measures to ban sales of flavored tobacco.
The committee vote was 5 votes in favor, 3 votes for an amended bill that would have replaced Duson’s bill with a watered-down version, and 2 votes against. Three committee members were absent, and have 24 hours to submit their committee vote on the bill, although the outcome is not expected to change.
Lawmakers who supported the ban said flavors are a way to entice teens to try tobacco, especially through vaping products.
State Sen. Joe Baldacci, a Bangor Democrat and co-chair of the committee, said that given the popularity of vaping among teens, it’s important for the state to do everything it can to discourage the use of addictive nicotine products. According to surveys, about 17% of Maine high school students use vaping products, compared to about 5% who use combustible cigarettes.
Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, said too many teens are vaping, and banning flavors should help prevent them from starting.
But Republicans on the committee argued that while nicotine products are harmful, the government should not be dictating what adults can purchase. Those under 21 are already prohibited from purchasing nicotine products, including vaping products.
Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais, said while vaping is a problem, adults should be free to purchase the products.
Opponents also have contended that 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.
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 no fiscal note attached to the bill, opponents estimate Maine will lose more than $30 million in sales tax revenue because people will shop for banned products outside the state. 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 money, proponents of the ban contend.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that “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.