Lawmakers hear conflicting arguments over bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Maine

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Maine could join a handful of states in banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavorings for other tobacco products, including vaping devices and flavored cigars, if a bill passes the Legislative Assembly was advanced.

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from a wide range of public health advocates, doctors, dentists, students and former smokers who supported the ban on Friday. They said it would save lives, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars now spent on tobacco-related illnesses in Maine.

Opponents, however, said the ban would only force the sale of menthol cigarettes or flavored vaping products underground or in neighboring New Hampshire, where the products would still be available.

“If there was anything I could do differently in my life, it’s never to have taken that first puff of that first cigarette,” said former smoker Darlene Huntress of Hollis. She and others have said that the tobacco industry‘s use of sweet and fruity flavors like cotton candy, bananas, and the like is clear evidence of efforts to get kids hooked on nicotine, the product. psychoactive chemical that makes tobacco addictive.

“I’m disgusted because the tobacco industry is hardly trying to hide the fact that they are cultivating a new, younger generation of lifelong addicted customers,” Huntress said.

The law project, LD 1550, sponsored by Representative Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, has the support of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

“Tobacco use puts the health and future of our children at risk,” said Meyer, a registered nurse. “It’s an addiction that begins in adolescence and too often ends in premature death. Smoking kills more people than any other preventable disease. “

Senator Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, co-sponsor of the bill, said Maine has the 11th highest rate of smoking-related cancer in the country. Davis said his home county of Piscataquis has the highest smoking rate in the state among Maine adults, with one in five adults smoking.

Davis, himself a former smoker, said he saw his father and brother die of lung cancer and believes his mother also died from all the secondhand smoke she inhaled. He said tobacco-related illnesses in Maine cost $ 800 million. one year, about half of which is paid for by government funded health insurance programs.

“It’s just the monetary loss, which has nothing to say about the anxiety and the anguish and the heartache, the suffering, the pain and whatever people have to go through because they are addicted,” he said. Davis said. “I remember my father sitting on the edge of his bed and coughing and coughing until he was out of breath and could only make a little noise. My mother breathless. My brother is in pain. I remember it very well. “

Davis has previously championed tougher tobacco restrictions in Maine, including sponsoring a bill in 2017 that raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. The federal government followed suit in 2020, raising the minimum age to 21 across the country.

He said opponents of the measure will argue that tobacco is a legal product and that adults have the right to choose for themselves whether or not to use it.

“When I was younger and smoked two packs a day, I didn’t feel like a choice,” Davis said. “Losing a father, brother and mother to lung cancer and second-hand smoke. And I think about it all and I certainly had no choice in the matter.

Only two states, Massachusetts and California, have completely banned all flavored tobacco products, while a handful of others have banned only flavored vaping products. This month, the United States House passed a bill that would ban the federal government from the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol.

In 2019, Congress passed a law that raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. In 2020, the administration of former President Donald Trump issued rules that ban fruit flavors. , candy, mint and dessert from small e-cigarette cartridges like Juul. The Democratic-controlled United States House also passed a 2020 ban on flavored tobacco products, but the measure never authorized the Republican-controlled Senate.

And in late April, President Biden’s Federal Food and Drug Administration announced it would begin the process of banning the sale of menthol cigarettes across the country. The announcement follows a lawsuit filed by anti-smoking and medical groups last summer to force the FDA to finally make a decision on menthol, alleging that regulators “unreasonably delayed” the response to a 2013 petition aimed at banning the flavor, the Associated Press reported. .

Opponents of the bill in Maine included groups representing convenience stores, tobacco stores, and cigarette and cigar industry associations. They said the ban would only force sales into New Hampshire, while costing jobs in Maine and revenue from the sales tax it collects on products.

Christopher Jackson, an Augusta-based lobbyist, speaking on behalf of the Cigar Association of America, said it was ironic that Maine’s booming recreational marijuana industry is advancing at full speed with a range of products edibles, including candies like gummy bears, and there was no movement. going to stop this.

Jackson referred to a recent Maine Sunday Telegram / Portland Press Herald report on the edible marijuana industry.

“And if you haven’t read it, I hope you go get it, and see if you don’t echo the irony of that hearing to ban flavored cigars, a product minors don’t use.” as a rule, while other industries make cannabis infused treats like gingerbread or sea salt flavored caramel candies, pumpkin cheesecake, and French strawberry macaron edibles and chocolate, ”Jackson said.

The bill will then go to committee working session before being sent to the full Legislature for consideration later this year.


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