Portland has followed Bangor in banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, a move advocates hope will spur the passage of a statewide ban.
The Portland City Council voted unanimously to ban the sale of the products within the city on Monday, more than three months after Bangor became Maine’s first community to do so. Both bans go into effect on June 1.
Anti-tobacco advocates in Portland and elsewhere say that sales bans are the only way to ensure that children don’t get access to e-cigarette products. Tobacco and vape manufacturers had long marketed their products to children, they argue, noting the many fruity flavors available for e-cigarettes and the numerous young people in Maine who have begun using e-cigarettes despite being below the age of 21.
But many local vape and smoking shops say a ban will seriously hamper their businesses and could even lead to them cutting staff or going out of business. Many other shops will also lose revenue from the prohibition on menthol cigarette sales.
Vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, Anthony Scott, co-owner of Portland Smoke and Vape on Brighton Avenue, said during a public comment period before Monday’s vote.
Both smoking and vaping products were already illegal to purchase for those under the age of 21, he said.
“They’re not allowed in our store to see these products,” Scott said.
Though many Portland councilors said their decision on how to vote was a difficult one, all voted uniformly in favor of a ban. The council’s actions likely will reverberate far beyond Portland: it’s a symbolic win for proponents of a Legislature bill that would ban the sale of the products across the state.
That ban bill was reported out of committee last June but has not yet seen a vote by the full Legislature.
At least one other Maine community appears to be on the cusp of banning the sale of the products: Brunswick voted unanimously on Monday to set a public hearing for the matter on Feb. 22. If passed, it would also make the sale of flavored tobacco products illegal on June 1.
That proposal is being sponsored by Brunswick Town Councilor Kathy Wilson, who said she was motivated both by Bangor’s ban and her own experience starting to smoke cigarettes when she was just 12 or 13. It eventually turned into a two-and-a-half pack a day habit.
She said it was likely that more municipal governments in Maine want to pursue a ban, but would prefer action at the state level so they can avoid a local backlash.
Her gut tells her the sales ban will go through in the town, but she doesn’t want to provide any guarantees until a final vote is taken.
“I’m praying, for the sake of the kids, that we do ban it in Brunswick,” Wilson said. “The more towns that do this, the more apt the state is to step in and follow suit.”
Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said Friday that the city’s public health committee was interested in a ban on flavored tobacco sales in the city. He would support such a resolution and wants it to come before the council as soon as possible.
“Lewiston is certainly a leader in the state – we’re the second-largest city,” Sheline said. “By Lewiston banning flavored tobacco, it sends a message to the state that residents care about protecting kids.”
Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, sponsor of the state legislation, said she was encouraged by Portland’s vote to ban the products. She said she was waiting to see if Gov. Janet Mills includes an item related to a ban in her supplemental budget before she takes further action.
Asked if Mills plans to include a tobacco ban item in her supplemental budget, Mills spokesperson Linsday Crete noted that the governor had included around $32 million to replace lost tax revenue from a flavored tobacco ban in her supplemental budget last year. However, it was removed from the proposal by the Legislature before passage.
“If the Legislature were to end the sale of flavored tobacco and fund the revenue lost, the governor would support it, as she did last year,” Crete said.