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Politics

Maine Could Become One Of First States To Ban Sale Of Flavored Tobacco

Hawaii Flavored E Cigarette Ban
Audrey McAvoy
/
Associated Press
This Wednesday, March 27, 2019 photo shows a selection of e-liquid flavors like Hana Honeydew and Pipeline Peach on a counter at a VOLCANO Fine Electronic Cigarettes store in Aiea, Hawaii.

Maine could become one of the first states to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products under a bill that’s now before the Legislature.

The ban would extend to products such as menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco, cigars and electronic cigarettes.

The Maine CDC and other health groups are supporting the ban. They say that teens can easily be hooked on e-cigarettes that are made to taste like gummy bears or Pop Tarts, and that the problem has worsened in recent years.

Dr. Alyssa Goodwin, a pediatrician from Brunswick, spoke in support of the ban during a public hearing on Friday. She said that reports of cigarette use are rare among her teenage patients. But a majority of them have said that they or someone they know use e-cigarettes.

"My high school students speak of needing to avoid using the restroom because of the rampant uncontrolled vape use. And so while, in my practice, I've seen that combustible nicotine products use is almost unthinkable to the teens I see, they do not bat an eyelash when it comes to vaping because in their world it is everywhere," she says.

So far, just Massachusetts and California have approved bans on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, although California's is on hold pending the outcome of a referendum from the tobacco industry.

The Maine bill, LD 1550, will next undergo a work session in the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee on May 12.

Supporters of the bill also say that groups such as people of color and LGBTQ individuals are uniquely vulnerable to become addicted to flavored tobacco products.

During a public hearing on Friday, Penobscot Nation member and bill supporter Nyle Sockbesin said he first tried plain chewing tobacco as a young teenager.

It made him sick and he lost interest. A few months later, a member of his high school hockey team offered him a pinch of grape-flavored tobacco.

“I accepted his offer and enjoyed the flavored dip very much. So much that this pinch of grape dip led to a near 10-year struggle with smokeless tobacco addiction. These flavored tobacco products appeared inviting and harmless to my teenage self. The taste was immensely more enjoyable than the flavorless dip I had previously tried," Sockbesin says.

A number of convenience store owners have come out against the bill. They argue that the ban would hurt businesses around Maine.

Some Mainers have argued that vaping is a less harmful habit that helped them stop using cigarettes. Others opponents have said that banning flavored tobacco products could lead to undue harassment of people of color who are more likely to use them.

Advocates of the proposed ban say that Maine has some of the highest rates of tobacco-related illness and death in the country, and they believe that the ban would reduce the state's health care costs