Portland council approves ban on sale of flavored tobacco products

The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

“This is just one of many tools we can use to create a better public health outcome for everyone,” said Councilman Tae Chong, who chairs the health and human services committee and council’s public safety, which approved the ban 3-0 in November. “Banning flavored tobacco is not the only strategy. Prevention and intervention and all these other things are going to come into play, but it’s a way to help the overall health of our children and also marginalized populations.

The order will take effect June 1, the same day a similar order is due to take effect in Bangor. The two municipalities are among more than 330 communities nationwide that 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.

The American Lung Association, in a statement following the council’s vote, applauded the decision and urged the rest of Maine to follow suit.

“The City of Portland made a bold statement tonight when it took action to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products,” said Lance Boucher, assistant vice president for state public policy for the association, in the press release. “Not only have they taken a stand to prioritize the health of our children over tobacco industry profits, but they have sent a message to Augusta that Mainers are ready to leave tobacco behind.”

The council heard more than two hours of public comment on the ban from the public, including parents and public health experts who asked them to approve it.

“I think this is an opportunity for the City of Portland to play a leadership role alongside the City of Bangor,” said Michael Bourque, a resident who said two of his four children, who now have twenties or late teens, started vaping in college.

Bourque said vaping had a “special attraction” for her children when they were very young. “It was easy. It was low key. It was cool and they got addicted almost immediately,” Bourque said. was able to quit completely.

Elizabeth Nalli, a school nurse at Portland Public Schools, said hardly a day goes by in the district, as well as in schools across the country, where staff don’t have to intervene in cases where students were smoking on school grounds. She asked the council to pass the ban.

“Almost universally, the product of choice is vape pens designed to deliver flavored puffs,” Nalli said. “The flavor lineup is clearly designed to appeal to the youthful palette with flavors like mocha, apple pie, banana blast and cotton candy in addition to traditional menthol flavors.”

Companies and tobacco industry advocates have argued that the ban is too broad and that flavored tobacco products should remain available to adults. They said a ban would only send customers to other communities to shop.

Chris Jackson, who said he owns a tobacco specialty store in the city, suggested the city explore alternatives to a ban, such as allowing specialty stores that only allow customers 21 and older to enter to continue selling flavored tobacco products.

“What will be the real cost of this prescription? Jackson asked. “And not just in monetary value, (what is) the loss of businesses, the loss of jobs? Who will enforce this? … I think we’re jumping into this a little too soon.

Lisa Walters, manager of The Quality Shop, a convenience store on Stevens Avenue, said in an interview ahead of Monday’s meeting that she also thought the ban was a bad idea. About 30-40% of the store’s sales are flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. “It’s going to stimulate business outside of Portland, which is going to hurt all small businesses,” Walters said.

She suggested employers take a tougher stance on checking IDs and denying sales to underage customers as an alternative way to keep tobacco out of the hands of young people. “Small businesses are already suffering from staff shortages and this will only hurt them even more,” Walters said. “I think employees should be more educated and confident when approached by a minor or a minor with a fake ID.”

While councilors expressed support for the ban, some also said they struggled with the idea of ​​a ban. “The thing that I stuck on was trying to find common sense solutions with harm reduction and education rather than prohibition,” Councilor Victoria Pelletier said. “I still don’t know that outright banning is really the best policy.”

Pelletier said she was influenced to support the ban because it would be the best solution for the children in her district. “Going forward with the ban, I’m asking, ‘Do I even have a percentage chance of helping to protect the kids in King and Reiche (schools), especially black and brown kids?'” Pelletier said. .

The new order defines a flavored tobacco product as “any tobacco product that imparts a taste or odor, other than the taste or odor of tobacco, before or during the consumption of a tobacco product, including, but without limitation, any taste or odor related to fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey or any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice .

It applies to any tobacco or nicotine-based product, natural or synthetic, intended to be consumed by inhalation, absorption or ingestion by any other means. This includes flavored cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff.

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

Violations of the order would result in fines of $100 to $500 for each violation.

Brunswick City Council is also considering banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and will hold a public hearing on the proposal on February 22. Councilor Kathy Wilson, who is sponsoring the proposal, said as a former smoker she knows how addictive nicotine can be.

“I think this vaping, which sucks kids in, is just not the right thing to do for us as responsible adults,” Wilson said. “I know a few people who have said, ‘I quit smoking and I’m vaping. We’re not taking vaping away. This is the flavored tobacco we are looking for.

Maine lawmakers are also considering a statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, is sponsoring a bill, LD 1550, which passed the Legislative Committee on Health and Human Services last year and was deferred to the current session.

Meyer said Monday that she expects her bill to come to the House for a vote this spring, although a vote has not yet been scheduled.

As a registered nurse, Meyer said she, too, has seen the effects of nicotine addiction, which often begins in childhood. She said a recent poll in Maine showed that a majority of residents would like to see restrictions placed on the sale of flavored tobacco products and that the passage of a statewide ban” level the playing field” for municipalities.

“As municipalities move one by one in this direction, we as state legislators need to carefully consider what our constituents are saying and what our municipalities are doing and listen to the people who put public health ahead of government benefits. tobacco industry,” says Meyer.

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