Lawmakers introduce bill to ban flavored tobacco products

Supporters of the bill have argued that flavored products appeal to children. Opponents say Maine would create a black market for these products and lose revenue if adopted.

AUGUSTA, Maine – In a virtual hearing Friday, members of the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee introduced a bill to ban the sale of all tobacco flavored products, including flavored cigars and electronic cigarettes in the state.

The bill, introduced by State Representative Michele Meyer (D-Eliot), received support from other lawmakers on the committee, public health advocates and young adults who spoke about their own experiences of nicotine addiction.

State Senator Paul Davis (R – Piscataquis) testified that he became addicted to cigarettes after serving in the military.

“I smoked at least two packs a day. I would reach out at two or three in the morning when I would wake up and have a cigarette and lay in my bed and smoke a cigarette, ”he added.

While Davis recalled his experience as an adult, many pleaded for Maine’s youth during Friday’s public hearing.

“The evidence is clear that flavors play a role in the choice of smoking initiation and the choice of products used,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah said during testimony.

Shah quoted the National Youth Smoking Survey 2020 who found one in five high school students and one in 20 high school students in the country use e-cigarettes.

“Maine has the opportunity to join those who have said they will not tolerate a system designed to hook as many children as possible to smoking and tobacco,” he added.

Youth advocates Justin Grillo and Laura Bogorad joined the “Flavors Hook Kids” campaign as students at Colby College. Although they didn’t grow up in Maine, they are familiar with nicotine use as a child.

“When you’re with other people who also do it, you feel left out if you don’t,” Grillo said. “It was more about the flavor than about smoking something.”

In his testimony and in an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine, Grillo said he smoked mango flavored Juul pods. He said he liked the taste, but didn’t understand the effects of smoking on his body until he noticed that his conditioning was not where he normally was in training. hockey and lacrosse.

Bogorad, who is from Lexington, Mass., Said that while he was in high school, kids wondered “do you want to try the strawberry?” Was it never formulated like you want to smoke? “

She even said that some of her friends and classmates had to buy nicotine patches and could barely pass a class without smoking due to their addiction to flavored vaping products.

“Everyone smoked between classes and they had to put someone in the bathroom to make sure people weren’t smoking, but it didn’t work,” she added.

Lawmakers heard testimony for about six hours on Friday, starting with supporters of the bill and then those who opposed it.

“Why? Because the products in demand will always find a market,” said Jon Shaer.

Shaer is the executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association. He said that under the current wording of the bill, adults who use flavored tobacco products would be affected.

He added that the methane cigarette industry in Maine is worth $ 120 million and that revenue would be lost if the bill passes.

Brett Scott of Smokers Haven made a similar point.

“Putting [all tobacco products] in the same category does not make sense, “he said.” I’m not against banning menthol cigarettes, but putting vapes in the same category is absolutely wrong. “

Others who have spoken out against the bill have asked the Committee to look into what has happened in Massachusetts since Bay State passed a similar ban on flavored tobacco products in June. latest.

Shaer said locals simply travel to New Hampshire or Rhode Island to buy their produce and the state is losing revenue.

Law enforcement officials like Anthony Miranda, executive chairman of the National Association of Latin American Officers, have argued that if this bill passes, police will need to monitor the black market.

He added that tobacco products would still be sold in Maine even if there was a ban that he said would strain law enforcement resources.

Tobacco companies like RJ Reynolds testified in the form of spokespersons. Some said they were paid for the time they spent testifying, but that they planned to voice their opinions.

This week, the Connecticut legislature amended a similar ban on flavored tobacco to exclude cigarettes.

Now, the Maine Legislative Assembly’s Health and Social Services Committee will be working on this bill in working sessions over the coming weeks.

About Margaret Shaw

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