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Peter Brennan is executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, which represents more than 1,000 Maine stores.
We represent more than 1,000 Maine businesses and we read with interest the Bangor Daily News’ editorial endorsing a statewide ban on all sales of flavored tobacco. We believe that such a ban would be a bad policy decision for Mainers. Here’s why.
Mainers who enjoy mint or wintergreen chewing tobacco, menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and other legal tobacco products would lose the ability to purchase their preferred items. Of course, it’s already illegal for those under 21 to purchase these or any other tobacco items. This age limit is heavily enforced in Maine stores — fines are large and are taken seriously by retailers.
We believe this prohibition-style approach would be a gross regulatory overreach. And it’s one that has backfired in other states, including neighboring Massachusetts.
A few data points to consider: First, this prohibition policy is aimed at cutting youth smoking — despite the fact that, in 2021, the U.S. CDC found that only 0.6% of Maine high school students said they are daily smokers.
Second, a similar ban on the sale of these products was recently shot down in Lewiston, which demonstrates that strong opposition to the ban exists in urban areas as well as rural ones.
Third, neighboring Massachusetts passed a similar statewide ban and it has failed spectacularly. A recent Massachusetts Illegal Tobacco Task Force report showed that, because of the ban, their illicit market exploded, and they lost millions in tax dollars. The Massachusetts law, which went into effect in 2020, has resulted in a cigarette excise tax revenue loss of roughly $120 million in the 12 months following the ban. Nearly 90% of those sales shifted out of state, primarily to bordering New Hampshire and Rhode Island, as the demand in Massachusetts has not abated. Of course, the same can be expected in Maine.
This evidence means that Maine is considering a ban with multiple negative impacts to address a problem that, as cited above, CDC data indicates is limited in Maine.
Massachusetts’ failed tobacco policies have robbed the state of millions in vital tax dollars for prevention and education while having little to no impact on smoking trends. And who is now paying the skyrocketing law enforcement costs that result from these failed policies? Massachusetts taxpayers. Mainers would be on the hook for these types of costs too if the proposed ban passes.
Because of the illegal market expansion caused by the ban, state troopers and local police officers in Massachusetts are now faced with having to police street corners where criminals are selling contraband cigarettes.
In addition to surging costs of enforcement and increased smuggling cases, the Massachusetts flavor ban is essentially increasing health care costs as lost sales tax revenue means less funding for tobacco education. Losing these educational funds will have an unintended negative impact on awareness campaigns that have been proven effective at smoking deterrence.
Additionally, funds will likely have to be redirected to enforcement so police officers can put their lives at risk confronting petty criminals selling products that are legal in neighboring states. Meanwhile, communities that already face over-policing will likely see increased law enforcement scrutiny in their neighborhoods.
It has become startlingly clear that our concerns at the time the Massachusetts ban was enacted were well-founded and have come to fruition. We expect the same in Maine if a similar ban is enacted, despite the clear evidence that this is a policy that does not work.
The evidence is clear: Maine should heed the warnings, reject this ill-advised ban and say no to a misguided policy that will only create new problems.
If people agree with us, they should please contact their local legislator and let them know.