Democrats have the power to push through a flavored tobacco ban, but they also must cover a large price tag to replace lost revenue.
Menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products are displayed at a store in San Francisco on May 17, 2018. Credit: Jeff Chiu / AP

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

Since the Democratic-led Maine Legislature narrowly failed to get a statewide ban on flavored tobacco into a 2021 budget deal, a lot has happened in the subject area. 

Bar Harbor and Rockland approved similar bans this year, bringing the numbers of Maine cities and towns restricting sales to six. Proponents of the statewide ban are back in front of the Legislature. 

On Tuesday, ban proponents and their adversaries including the convenience store industry will face off in dueling news conferences and a public hearing on the latest bid to put Maine alongside California and Massachusetts in restricting sales on flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The arguments and obstacles to the bill are familiar.

The arguments: Health organizations that want a ban have argued across the state that people are being hooked on these products too early, noting they have been on the rise for a decade. Opponents point to the loss in tax revenue and have cited rising sales of flavored tobacco in Massachusetts border states, though it is not clear if the ban led to that.

Maine has seen a reasonably clear political divide on the issue, with progressives generally supporting a ban and Republicans opposing one. There is crossover, however. Rep. Scott Cyrway of Albion is the only Republican co-sponsor of the ban measure from Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland. Some rural Democrats have been skeptical of a ban, particularly around menthol cigarettes, though Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is on the bill.

Money matters: Democrats have the power to push through the ban without any Republican votes, but they also must cover a large price tag to replace the revenue lost under a ban. It was estimated at $32 million over two years at that time, and Republicans insisted that it come out of a consensus budget deal. Democrats acceded.

What’s new: In their public-relations push, proponents are now pointing to recent Maine polling that showed majority support for such a ban. But the success of this bill will depend in part on how Democrats handle a second part of spending negotiations after enacting a two-year budget over Republican opposition last month.

If they engage the minority party on a consensus deal, the ban could see a replay of 2021. But if they come up with their own plan, it could win as long as they lock down enough support in wavering rural areas for such a proposal.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...