A statewide ban on flavored tobacco products will again come before lawmakers in the new year, following continued action at the local level.
The Flavors Hook Kids Maine campaign is ramping up in advance of the new legislative session that begins Wednesday, according to a Thursday press release.
Earlier this year, a bill to institute a statewide ban passed the Maine Senate but stalled in the House.
Advocates say polling shows Mainers support a statewide ban, with 63% of likely voters saying they support a ban and 53% expressing strong support.
“Some of these products have a very high concentration of nicotine, which almost instantly hooks young people,” said BJ McCollister, campaign manager for Flavors Hook Kids Maine.
Yet others argue that a ban is unnecessary to protect teens, who are already prevented by state law from purchasing the products.
Selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 is illegal and enforcement — not a ban — should be stepped up if the concern is about underage use, according to the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.
“It’s very unlikely the products we’re concerned with the youth using are being bought at our stores,” said Peter Brennan, executive director of the group, in April. “My guess is if we’re concerned about youths using fruity vapes in a school bathroom, that’s not coming from us.”
Brennan’s group represents 7,000 stores in New England and 1,000 in Maine. He said when a similar ban was passed in Massachusetts, people turned to the illegal market to find the products or purchased them in neighboring states.
Potential action at the state level follows local bans in Bar Harbor, Falmouth, Bangor, South Portland, Portland and Brunswick.
And in Hallowell, a public hearing on a local ban is set for Jan. 8.
Those opposed to flavored tobacco say there’s early evidence that local bans are working.
Data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows the percentage of high school students who vaped during the previous 30 days has dropped from 29% in 2019 to 16% in 2023.
“Based on the data we are seeing, the policies work on a local level, and it will work on a statewide level,” McCollister said.
On the other side, House Republican Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) argued earlier this year that a statewide ban would hurt adults who are trying to quit smoking.
“I just think it’s crazy to target this product,” he said. “It’s going after a product that helps people stop smoking like I did.”