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Maine Advocacy Groups Decry Omission Of Tobacco Prevention Measures In Budget Deal

Juul announced it will suspend sales of all non-tobacco, non menthol-based flavors of its e-cigarette products.

Several advocacy groups in Maine are fuming over a state budget deal that omits tobacco prevention and control measures, including Governor Janet Mills' provision that would have ended the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products.

Among those dismayed that the budget deal doesn't include the ban on flavored tobacco products is Brunswick pediatrician Dr. Deborah Hagler. She's also president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The flavors really draw kids in," Hagler says.

Hagler says four out of five kids who use tobacco start with flavored products, which can include e-cigarettes with flavors like cotton candy, mango, and even one called "unicorn puke." She says lawmakers have missed an opportunity to prevent a new generation from getting hooked on nicotine.

"I think we're shooting ourselves in the foot here for not banning flavored tobacco products," Hagler says.

The budget deal was bipartisan and approved unanimously by the Appropriations Committee. Republican State Senator Paul Davis, who serves on the committee, says there was a lot of pushback on the proposed ban.

"I think the good part of the feeling was that an awful lot of people on the border would go to New Hampshire and get the tobacco. And then on top of that, it has a price tag of $32 million on it," Davis says.

That's $32 million in lost tax revenue, says Davis. But Lance Boucher, Director of State Advocacy in Maine for the American Lung Association, says that's just a fraction of what tobacco use costs the state every year in health care.

"Tobacco costs Maine more than $1.7 billion, including $261 million to the state Medicaid program every year. So the fiscal impact of removing flavored tobacco products of $25 to $30 million is miniscule compared to what is costs the state already," Boucher says.

The budget deal also failed to carry forward a $5 million annual increase to the state's tobacco control program. In the midst of a respiratory pandemic, Boucher says, the cut is a double blow to the long-term health of both adults and children in a state where on in three high schoolers use tobacco products.

The legislature is scheduled to vote on the supplemental budget this week.