Now that the dust has settled on the Health and Human Services Committee hearing for LD 1550, a bill that would ban the legal sale of all flavored tobacco in the state, it’s time to sift through the testimony and get a few things straight. The legislature and the good people of Maine deserve to know what is real and what is spin.
Anyone willing to watch even just a couple of the eight hours of testimony will quickly realize the real target of the legislation should be electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) flavors like cotton candy, sour melon and Caribbean punch. These slickly packaged and marketed products are the ones with highest youth appeal, not the entire ENDS category (commonly referred to as vape) and certainly not traditional tobacco flavors: wintergreen moist smokeless and menthol cigarettes.
Conflating ENDS and traditional tobacco under the term “flavors” is an intentional tactic by big anti-tobacco lobbying groups. They would have you believe all flavors, regardless of the product, have the same youth appeal and pose the same initiation danger. This is not even remotely true.
The CDC’s latest National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 19.7 percent of high school-aged youth reported vaping in the past 30 days. That’s down 12 percent from last year, but is still an alarming number. Only 4.6 percent of those same respondents reported smoking a cigarette and just 3.1 percent reported using moist smokeless tobacco.
These surveys consistently show youth vastly favor vaping over traditional tobacco, yet these facts never make it into the testimony of those seeking to eliminate tobacco. So, because the data isn’t supportive of their goals, the talking points quickly turn to racist big tobacco tactics and money hungry retailers. Shocking soundbites, to be sure, but groundless and sadly lacking in fact.
Facts are important for those wishing to craft sound, targeted tobacco policy. Look no further than Connecticut and their current legislative session for a good example. Connecticut had been pursuing a flavored tobacco ban similar to Maine’s LD 1550. The Connecticut proposal, however, was rejected by lawmakers who realized that not all products containing nicotine have the same youth appeal. They also apparently understood that banning products from legal sale in the state does nothing to prevent them from coming back into the market from New Hampshire, online or elsewhere.
Instead of banning all flavored tobacco, Connecticut smartly chose to focus on prohibiting flavored ENDS, except those that pass a rigorous Food and Drug Administration authorization process. To earn approval, the product must be determined to be appropriate for the protection of public health, and those without the designation will be banned from sale.
Reducing youth initiation and encouraging adult cessation are laudable objectives and Maine has led the way by effectively funding tobacco control programs. But prohibiting the sale of legal adult products outside the true scope of the issue is a bridge too far, and will result in economic harm to small businesses and many unintended, dangerous consequences.