Commentary

New Hampshire the beneficiary of New England’s misguided tobacco policies

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Last week, Maine’s Health and Human Services Committee held a public hearing on LD 1550, “An Act To End the Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products”, sponsored by Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot. The bill would prohibit the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products in Maine, including flavored cigars and e-cigarettes.

A ban on certain tobacco products will do very little to affect overall demand or use rates in Maine, but it will redirect valuable tax revenues to New Hampshire, as Massachusetts’ ban has. Maine is doing more than most other states in the country to reduce youth initiation and promote adult cessation. The American Lung Association gives Maine an A-grade, one of only three states in the entire country, for its $15 million funding of tobacco control programs. Funding education and cessation is how we teach our youth about the harms of these products, not a failed 1920s-era policy like prohibition.

Last June, Massachusetts implemented its ban on flavored tobacco products, passed in 2019. The state’s Department of Revenue projected that, even with a new 75% tax on e-cigarettes in the bill, the move would cost Massachusetts $93 million over the fiscal year. The state has lost more than $10 million per month, on pace to forgo more than $120 million in tobacco taxes this fiscal year. After bringing in $557 million last year, Massachusetts is on pace to lose 20% of the tax revenue expected from tobacco sales.

Did 20% of smokers and tobacco users in Massachusetts quit once the ban was implemented? No; smoking didn’t disappear. Massachusetts tobacco users just switched to a different, unflavored product, or they drove over the border to find their preferred flavored product. The proof is in the data.

The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA) has been tracking the regional market, noting that between June and December, total cigarette sales in New Hampshire jumped 46%, menthol cigarette sales grew by 90% and sales of mint/wintergreen smokeless tobacco more than doubled compared to the same period in 2019. Cigarette sales in Massachusetts are down nearly 24%, as total convenience store sales fell 10%.

In Rhode Island, total cigarette sales increased 20%, menthols were up 29% and mint/wintergreen smokeless tobacco sales were up 59%. In New Hampshire, those stores saw their overall sales nearly double, a clear sign that consumers are simply reacting to the recent policy changes, not changing their personal behavior.

Mainers have simply driven over the border into New Hampshire for years to find better prices on all sorts of goods. If Maine bans most-to-all tobacco products, the state will continue to lose out on economic activity and ship even more tax revenue to our closest neighbor.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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