Now that the dust has fallen on the Hearing of the Health and Human Services Committee LD 1550, a bill that would ban the legal sale of all flavored tobacco in the state, it’s time to sift through the testimony and clarify some things. The legislature and the good people of Maine deserve to know what is real and what is spin.
Anyone willing to watch even a few of the eight hours of testimony will quickly realize that the real focus of the legislation should be Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) flavors like cotton candy, sour melon and Caribbean punch. These carefully packaged and marketed products are the ones that appeal the most to young people, not the entire ENDS category (commonly referred to as vape) and certainly not the traditional tobacco flavors: smokeless wet wintergreen and menthol cigarettes.
The confrontation of ENDS and traditional tobacco under the term “flavors” is an intentional tactic of the major tobacco pressure groups. They would have you believe that all flavors, whatever the product, have the same youthful appeal and present the same initiation danger. This is not even true from a distance.
The CDC’s latest National Youth Smoking Survey found that 19.7% of high school-age youth reported vaping in the past 30 days. That’s a 12% drop from last year, but it’s still an alarming number. Only 4.6 percent of these same respondents reported smoking a cigarette and only 3.1 percent reported using smokeless wet tobacco.
These surveys consistently show that young people greatly prefer vaping to traditional tobacco, but these facts never form part of the testimony of those seeking to quit smoking. So, as the data does not support their purposes, the talking points quickly turn to grand racist tobacco tactics and money-hungry retailers. Shocking sound clips, of course, but unfounded and unfortunately absent.
The facts are important for those who wish to develop a strong and targeted tobacco control policy. Look no further than Connecticut and their current legislative session for a good example. Connecticut had pursued a ban on flavored tobacco similar to Maine’s LD 1550. Connecticut’s proposal, however, was rejected by lawmakers who realized that not all nicotine-containing products are equally appealing to young people. They also apparently understood that the ban on the legal sale of the products in the state in no way prevented them from re-entering the market from New Hampshire, online or elsewhere.
Instead of banning all flavored tobaccos, Connecticut has wisely chosen to focus on banning flavored ENDS, except for those that go through a rigorous Food and Drug Administration clearance process. To gain approval, the product must be determined to be suitable for the protection of public health, and those without the designation will be prohibited from sale.
Reducing the initiation of young people and encouraging cessation in adults are laudable goals and Maine has led the way in effectively funding tobacco control programs. But banning the sale of legal adult products outside of the real scope of the problem is a bridge too far and will lead to economic damage to small businesses and many unintended and dangerous consequences.