A bill to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products in Maine is headed to the full Legislature after winning the support of the Health and Human Services committee.
On Thursday, that committee voted to advance LD 1215, which would prohibit the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigars, e-cigarettes and vape pens.
The ban seeks to make statewide prohibitions that are already in place in Portland, South Portland, Bangor, Brunswick and Bar Harbor. A similar statewide effort failed last year when lawmakers adjourned without taking up the bill.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Jill Duson (D-Portland) issued a statement Friday saying she has particular concern about the impacts of menthol-flavored cigarettes and cigars.
“Passage of this bill would get one of the deadliest products, marketed specifically to youngsters in Black communities, off the store shelves,” she said. “Put another way, ending the sale of menthol cigarettes will overwhelmingly benefit Black Americans by reducing smoking and saving lives.”
In April, convenience stores called the measure unnecessary and said it will not only hurt their profits, but the revenues that come to the state through flavored tobacco sales.
Although updated figures are not yet available, the bill proposed last year was estimated to cost the state $22 million in revenue each year.
High schoolers from across Maine came to the State House in April to support a ban, saying that classmates hide in the bathroom to vape and that candy flavors are enticing to teens.
Store owners say selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 is already illegal and enforcement — not a ban — should be stepped up if the concern is about underage use.
Before the Health and Human Services Committee vote on Thursday, which fell along party lines with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed, both sides tried to make their case.
Rep. Anne Graham (D-North Yarmouth) is a retired nurse who has also worked for the American Cancer Society.
“I will do anything in my power to prevent illness, injury and disease,” she said. “We need to not get them hooked so early on.”
Sen. Marianne Moore (R-Calais) said she would support some limits on vaping liquids, but that’s as far as she would go.
“We have adults making adult decisions to use what they want to use,” she said. “Are we going to forbid my Chardonnay?”