The flavored tobacco bill was the most heavily lobbied legislation in Maine this year, drawing more than $300,000 in overall spending on lobbyists and advertisements. John Terhune/The Forecaster

Advocates for banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products in Maine began this year’s legislative session believing they had the wind at their backs.

Polling indicated strong public support for their bill. A handful of municipalities adopted bans amid inaction at the state level. Members of the public came out in droves for the public hearing and spent time in the lobby talking to lawmakers. And a broad coalition of supporters, ranging from public health advocates to businesses, launched a six-figure ad campaign to nudge fence-sitting lawmakers.

But the session came to a chaotic end last month without a single floor vote on the bill in the state House of Representatives, even though House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, was a co-sponsor.

The House leadership’s decision not to vote on the bill after it cleared the Senate by two votes has continued to baffle advocates, who spent $125,000 on video and digital advertising and thousands more to directly lobby lawmakers to try to push it over the finish line.

“With the Senate’s approval, it is surprising and disappointing that the House didn’t even bring this bill up for discussion,” former Maine State Chamber of Commerce leader and Flavors Hook Kids Maine campaign member Dana Connors said in a statement after the session ended. “I’m not sure why, but it was surprising and disappointing. I do know the essence of this bill represents a cause not to give up on, and it is worthy to be pursued in future legislative sessions.”

A growing number of states have passed similar bans, which proponents say are needed to stop tobacco companies from marketing e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes to young people at risk of lifetime addiction. Opponents argue the bans mostly affect adults who should be allowed to buy whatever flavors they choose, and they say the products provide options for people who switch to e-cigarettes and vaping as a way to quit smoking.


The flavored tobacco bill was the most heavily lobbied legislation in Maine this year, drawing more than $300,000 in overall spending on lobbyists and advertisements.

About half of the spending – $158,000 – was paid for direct lobbying of lawmakers. In all, 26 lobbyists hired by 20 different clients worked to influence lawmakers and other officials.

Lobbyists testify at public hearings and participate in work sessions to help lawmakers craft bill language and amendments. They corner and try to persuade lawmakers in the lobby between the legislative chambers during session days. They hold events, often with the enticement of free food, to present their perspective on an issue or to outline their priority legislation.

An additional $156,000 was spent on grassroots advertising and outreach, designed to get citizens and other groups to contact lawmakers.

The state’s system for reporting lobbying expenses does not break down whether the money was spent in support of or against specific bills.

Topline spending for the most heavily lobbied bills is posted by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. But digging up a detailed breakdown of spending on each bill is a labor-intensive process, and the monthly reports filed by lobbyists do not contain basic information, such as whether they’re working for or against a bill.


Commission Director Jonathan Wayne said requiring lobbyists to report whether they worked for or against a bill is not as simple as it sounds.

“I am not an expert, but I would expect that sometimes a client’s position on a bill is more complicated than a simple support or oppose,” he said. “They might support most of the bill, provided that one or two provisions are changed. And sometimes a client’s overall position on an L.D. may change as amendments are made.”

An analysis of the spending reports about direct lobbying activity doesn’t indicate who spent more: supporters or opponents.

However, records show that proponents of the ban, led by the National Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, vastly outspent opponents on grassroots advertising targeting the public through digital and social media advertisements. Supporters spent $125,000, while Altria Network, which represents tobacco companies, spent a little more than $31,000 on grassroots outreach to stop the bill.

Whether lobbying efforts contributed to the demise of the bill isn’t clear. But, in the end, the votes weren’t there.

House leaders told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram that they never brought the bill to a floor vote because of fractures in the Democratic caucus. Leaders said they didn’t have the votes to pass L.D. 1215 and decided not to put their party members on the record, effectively shielding them from having to explain why they opposed it to constituents during the upcoming elections.


“Making a massive policy shift like L.D. 1215 takes time, resources, and education to be successful,” Talbot Ross said in a statement. “Ultimately, despite the compelling evidence and strong support from public health advocates, after many conversations a broad coalition of stakeholders determined this initiative still required more work to secure the necessary votes.”

House Majority Leader Mo Terry, D-Gorham, said that concerns among her caucus outweighed the public pressure to vote on the bill, which has been debated for years in Augusta.

“It became important to take into account all that we were hearing from advocates, but to focus on our caucus,” Terry said. “What we heard from our caucus was that this policy was incredibly important to them, but that they wanted to keep working on this issue and considering different viewpoints and different approaches. Instead of rushing a policy some of our members didn’t feel was ready, we chose to leave this bill on the table and come back to this important work in the next Legislature.”

It’s not clear how many Democrats opposed the measure. Without a roll-call vote, it remains unknown where individual House members stand.

Dan Cashman, spokesperson for the Flavors Hooks Kids Maine campaign, called out Democratic leaders for choosing to protect their caucus rather than children.

“Despite public polling indicating that nearly two-thirds of Mainers support this policy, a political calculus was made to protect legislators from going on the record instead of protecting our youth,” Cashman said this week. “This inaction means we are faced with more opportunities for kids to get hooked on dangerous, harmful products and a lifetime of addiction.”


The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, did not respond to interview requests.

Sometimes, deciding not to run a high-profile bill can signal behind-the-scenes opposition from the governor, including the threat of a veto. Gov. Janet Mills has yet to have any of her roughly 50 vetoes overturned by lawmakers.

But that does not appear to have been the case here. Talbot Ross and Terry said they had no discussions about the bill with the governor’s office.

Spokespeople for Mills said the governor supported the bill and would have signed it into law. They cited Mills’ long-standing efforts to curb tobacco use among youth, including signing bills into law that made it a Class D crime for someone over the age of 21 to provide tobacco products to minors and banning the use or possession of electronic smoking devices and tobacco products on school grounds, school buses or school-sponsored events.

Mills has served the last two years as one of two governors on the board of the Truth Initiative, the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to preventing nicotine addiction among young people. She also directed the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to launch a statewide public education campaign to educate young people about the dangers of vaping.

In 2021, Mills’ budget proposal included $32 million to cover any loss of state tax revenue that would accompany a statewide flavored tobacco ban. The most recent bill carried a projected $10 million revenue loss in the first year and $24 million a year thereafter – a figure that assumed many people using flavored tobacco would immediately stop buying it and not switch to another tobacco product.

“It was removed from the budget at the time because of objections from Republicans,” Mills spokesman Ben Goodman said of the 2021 proposal.

“The governor remains supportive of these efforts. Her administration, through the Maine CDC, testified in support of L.D. 1215,” Goodman added. “If the Legislature sent her a funded bill to end the sale of flavored tobacco products, she would sign it into law.”

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