The Maine Senate voted 18-16 Wednesday to support a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, would ban flavors such as mint, fruit, chocolate, menthol, vanilla and honey in all tobacco, including vaping products. The federal government already bans flavors, except for menthol, in combustible cigarettes, but allows them in vaping products.

“I rise in support of the young people of Maine,” Duson said Wednesday night. “Each and every one of them is targeted by the tobacco industry, a ruthless and predatory industry that doesn’t care a whit about them or the value they bring to our state. The tobacco industry has just one objective: profit.”

She was one of several senators who spoke movingly about family members who got hooked on flavored tobacco marketed to their specific demographic group – in Duson’s case, menthol cigarettes targeting the Black community – and suffered long-term health problems as a result.

But opponents have argued that while nicotine products are harmful, the government should not be dictating what adults can purchase. Those under 21 are already prohibited from purchasing nicotine products, including vaping products.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said the bill would turn Maine into a “nanny state” trying to control adults. Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, noted many of the same lawmakers who would go on to vote for the ban had just voted to allow recreational cannabis sales outside of approved retail stores.


“You can’t have it both ways,” Timberlake said. “I just thought we ought to talk about the hypocrisy.”

Several Democrats, including Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, crossed party lines to vote against the bill because she did not think it was fair to tell people who had been using flavored tobacco products for years that they could no longer do so.

“I still firmly believe that we should protect young people from the harms of using tobacco and nicotine products,” Grohoski said. “What we haven’t really heard about is people who are 50, 60, 70, 80, maybe even lived over 100, that have used these products. For them, it’s a choice they make consciously. These folks have made a choice that I do respect.”

The bill will go to the House for a vote.

Some Maine cities and towns, including Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Rockland, already have passed local measures to ban sales of flavored tobacco.

Lawmakers who supported the ban said flavors are a way to entice teens to try tobacco, especially through vaping products. According to surveys, about 17% of Maine high school students use vaping products, compared to about 5% who use combustible cigarettes.


Opponents also have contended that the proposed ban would simply drive people out of state to buy flavored tobacco, which they argue should be available to adults who turn to vaping as a way to quit smoking.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, California, Maryland and Utah have bans or some restrictions on the sale of flavored vaping products, with Massachusetts and California enacting the most comprehensive bans.

Maine will lose about $24 million in tax revenue if the ban goes into effect in January 2024, analysts say.

Opponents say that revenue will be lost to other states because people will shop for the banned products outside of Maine or online. However, supporters predict there would be cost savings over time, as people who avoid nicotine products are less likely to fall ill and cost the health system money.

The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that “cigarette smoking is linked to between 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths” and that tobacco use of all kinds cost the health care system in Maine more than $811 million in 2019.

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