The city of Portland soon could join other municipalities nationwide in banning the sale of flavored tobacco products as part of an effort to address an increase in youth tobacco use and prevent youth and other marginalized groups from becoming addicted.

The City Council will give initial consideration to a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products Wednesday and could vote on the proposal next month.

“Addiction or usage among kids is off the charts,” said Councilor Tae Chong, who chairs the council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which approved the ban 3-0 in November. “Use of cigarettes has gone down – but with flavored tobacco, it’s spiked. It’s almost like kids have replaced flavored tobacco over cigarettes.”

More than 330 municipalities in the U.S. have passed restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit that advocates to reduce tobacco use. In Maine, Bangor was the first municipality in the state to do so when its city council voted in October to prohibit the sale and marketing of all flavored tobacco products starting June 1.

Portland’s proposed ban also would prohibit the sale and marketing of any flavored tobacco product. The proposal defines a flavored tobacco product as “any tobacco product that imparts a taste or smell, other than the taste or smell of tobacco, either prior to, or during the consumption of, a tobacco product, including, but not limited to, any taste or smell relating to fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, or any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb, or spice.”

It would apply to any natural or synthetic tobacco or nicotine products intended to be consumed by inhalation, absorption or ingestion by any other means. That includes flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff.

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Cannabis products would be excluded, unless they contain, or are made of or derived from, tobacco and nicotine.

Violations of the ordinance would carry fines of $100 to $500 for each offense.

Chong said Tuesday that the effective date for the ordinance would be June 1, which would give retailers time to comply and would sync it with Bangor’s ordinance. While some businesses oppose the proposal, Chong said he hasn’t been swayed.

“The people pushing back haven’t given us a good argument to say, ‘We have a new campaign or a new strategy to protect the vulnerable population,'” he said.

Anthony Scott, co-owner of Portland Smoke and Vape on Brighton Avenue is among those against the ban. Scott said 60 to 70 percent of sales at the business are flavored tobacco products and he is willing to work with the city on ways to keep the products out of the hands of youth.

“We want the adults that are actually using these products the right way to have access to them,” Scott said. “They depend on these products to keep them off cigarettes – and a lot of times when they’re left with only a tobacco-flavored vape, they resort back to smoking cigarettes.”

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OPPONENTS SEEK ALTERNATIVES

Scott suggested the city consider limiting the sale of flavored tobacco to specialty stores or raising fines on stores that sell to underage customers. He said that while in some cases adults may be buying flavored tobacco products for teens, limiting the visibility of flavored tobacco by eliminating it in places like convenience stores would make it easier for the city to regulate and reduce its popularity among teens.

“I totally get that youth using these products is a problem and it’s something that needs to be addressed, but we have to come up with outside-the-box solutions, kind of like how we deal with alcohol or marijuana,” Scott said. “Marijuana is in 21-plus stores or it’s more discrete (in places where it’s sold). Kids can’t visually see these products, so I think it helps a little bit with the use.”

BJ McCollister is campaign manager for Flavors Hook Kids Maine, a coalition of parent, public health and civil justice groups that is advocating for an end to the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state. He said there is broad support for banning flavored tobacco to try to reduce youth nicotine use.

The coalition conducted a poll of 800 likely Maine voters last month and found about two-thirds favor a law that would end the sale of all flavored tobacco products that can appeal to youth, including fruit and candy flavored e-cigarettes, menthol-flavored cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.

About 6.8 percent of Maine high school students smoke and 30.2 percent use e-cigarettes, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That’s compared to 4.6 percent of high school students who smoke and 11.3 percent who use e-cigarettes nationally.

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“It’s clear kids in Maine are being targeted by big tobacco to get hooked on nicotine with flavors like bubble gum, cotton candy and fruit-based flavors,” McCollister said. “Why it’s happening more in Maine I’m not sure, but it’s a clear sign lawmakers and councilors need to take action.”

WORKSHOP EXPECTED

Some councilors said Tuesday that they are anticipating holding a workshop on the proposed ban and are interested in learning more before making a decision. Wednesday’s agenda item is an initial read and won’t include discussion or public comment, which would likely follow next month.

“This is an important conversation and complex issue,” Councilor Victoria Pelletier said in an email. “I look forward to discussing it during our workshop next month. I think it’s important for us to talk about what preventive measures we can implement that will limit youth use, and whether or not outright prohibition is the best way forward.”

Also Wednesday, the council will consider new rules for emergency shelters requiring that shelters apply for and receive licenses and file quarterly monitoring reports with the city. Shelters also would have to adhere to a limit of 300 beds within a one-mile radius and a 1,000-foot buffer between shelters, although there would exemptions for existing shelters.

The previous council approved the rules 7-1 in November, but the current council voted last month to reconsider them after a workshop.

A number of amendments to the original rules have been drafted and could be looked at Wednesday, including an exemption for domestic violence shelters with 25 or fewer beds; a requirement that the city’s inspection department provide prior notice before entering shelters to conduct inspections; and the elimination of a proposed requirement for shelters to meet monthly with neighbors and other stakeholders.


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