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Marwa Hassanien is the chair of the Bangor School Committee.
As the chair of the Bangor School Committee, I am strongly advocating for our city council to once again pass an ordinance to end the sale of flavored tobacco products.
If this issue sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Bangor City Council already voted in favor of this ordinance last fall. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, with seven councilors voting in favor of the ordinance, and only one opposed. Bangor was the first in the state to end the sale of flavored tobacco within its city limits.
I am proud that my community led the way on this issue. Portland and Brunswick later voted to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in their communities, and it looks more and more likely that the Maine Legislature will take this issue up in the winter as well.
But in order for more communities to enact a similar ordinance, and for the Legislature to make this a statewide law, Bangor must follow through and vote in favor of this ordinance once again.
The reason they are voting again is because of a procedural issue. Before the ordinance even took effect, the city council had to repeal it. They promised to bring the issue up again, which they are doing.
The reason they voted on this in the first place is because of the detrimental impacts and poor health outcomes that come with tobacco use. At the Bangor School Department we have a responsibility to commit to the whole student: academic, developmental, safety, and health.
We know that 1-in-4 Maine high school students now use e-cigarettes. That rate has nearly doubled in just the last two years. We also know that 80 percent of these students use flavored tobacco products.
If we know this, then tobacco companies must know this too. That’s why flavored tobacco products continue to be marketed toward young people. Flavors like orange soda, cotton candy, and cherry crush sound more like flavors of popsicles than harmful tobacco products. But that’s the hook that tobacco companies are using to entice kids to start using tobacco products. The fact that the rate of high school students using e-cigarettes has doubled is troubling to most of us.
But we don’t even need the data to know this is a problem. We’ve heard first hand accounts and we’ve seen the impacts. Kids who start using flavored tobacco products suddenly start dropping out of extracurricular activities because they cannot get through an entire practice or game without needing to take an e-cigarette break. They start losing their focus. Their grades drop. They become distant with friends and relationships.
There is no question to us that passing this ordinance is the right thing to do. The data is overwhelming, and the first-hand evidence is even more obvious. The Bangor City Council voted in favor in October, and nothing has changed since then, except more kids have gotten hooked on flavored tobacco, which will lead them to a lifetime of addiction and damage to their own health.
I understand why this ordinance had to be repealed and brought up for another vote. It’s important that we follow the rules, and it’s even more important that we teach our kids to follow the rules, and to make good when there is an error. That’s what the Bangor City Council is doing, and I applaud them for it. But it’s also important to teach them to take a stand and do the right thing. That’s the next step for the Bangor City Council and I hope they set a good example not just for our kids but for our entire community and our state.