Vendors will no longer be able to sell flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes in Bangor after the City Council voted again late Monday night to ban sales within city limits.
The final vote was 6-1, with Chair Rick Fournier casting the dissenting vote. The ban takes effect Jan. 1.
Councilor Dan Tremble agreed to recuse himself after the six other councilors who were present voted that he had a conflict of interest because he owned a business that held a tobacco license. Fournier also voted against Tremble’s recusal.
Bangor was the first city in Maine to ban sales of flavored tobacco products last fall, but reversed course in April after the city solicitor said that the city had failed to give affected vendors a required 30-day notice before considering the ordinance.
Portland and Brunswick have passed local flavored tobacco bans that have since taken effect.
Bangor councilors revived the ordinance in June and held a public hearing last week that continued into Monday night, where dozens of advocates and opponents of the ban spoke passionately.
The ban will levy a fine of $50 to $100 for first-time offenders and then $300 to $1,000 for each offense within the same two-year period.
Retailers said the ban would hurt their small businesses, which relied on sales from menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping cartridges, and that vaping was often the last step a person took before finally quitting smoking.
One woman held up a package of flavored tobacco cartridges she had ordered through the mail to show how easy it was for children to obtain e-cigarettes and other such products. She said that a ban wouldn’t deter them, though better parenting would.
Others framed the ban as an encroachment upon personal freedoms.
“‘My body, my choice’ is not reserved for females and abortion,” said Stephen Brough, a former City Council candidate. “We wouldn’t approve a ban on flavored alcohol for adults. We can’t have a double standard when it comes to flavoring.”
Health care advocates argued that tobacco companies’ marketing tactics, like cartoon packaging and fruity flavors, enticed children and got them hooked on smoking at younger ages.
Five councilors cited this latter reasoning when they spoke about why they would vote for the ban.
“The problem is that this particular thing is being targeted at children,“ Councilor Angela Okafor said.
“Children are powerless in so many things. You cannot say, ‘I leave decisions to my children to decide.’ I direct them, I guide them, I lead them to see the ups and downs of each situation. That is what a parent does. It is our collective responsibility to protect our future, to protect our children, to protect our community.”
READ MORE TOBACCO BAN COVERAGE
Okafor and councilors Clare Davitt and Joe Leonard added that allowing flavored tobacco would ultimately cost Bangor in the long-run, as the city would have to spend more on tobacco cessation programs.
Leonard cited data showing that 95 percent of smokers began smoking before age 21 when he spoke about why he opposed flavored tobacco sales, and that the money Maine spent on health care costs related to tobacco use outweighed the revenue it earned from taxing tobacco sales.
“The tobacco industry is privatizing their gains and socializing their losses,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of councilors who votes for Councilor Dan Tremble’s recusal.