The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Sunday to advance a supplemental budget, and lawmakers in the House and Senate approved that budget agreement on Wednesday, sending it to Governor Mills’ desk for her signature. Notably absent from the agreement, though, was the misguided and self-defeating flavored tobacco ban.
The ban was proposed with the intention of preventing underage Mainers from smoking flavored tobacco products, as they contain nicotine and are addictive and harmful to their development. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three high school students uses tobacco and about one in four uses vape products.
Though this issue is a serious cause for concern, the answer is not a full-stop prohibition. See Prohibition and the War on Drugs for my reasoning why.
Just this week, Juul settled a lawsuit with North Carolina over its alluring, youth-oriented advertising. The company agreed to pay $40 million to the state over six years and will change its marketing in the region.
If children are addicted to vape and/or nicotine, then simply getting rid of the products will not fix the issue.
Children who are hooked on nicotine are not going to suddenly stop craving it because the products are no longer on store shelves. Instead, they will likely turn to an alternative that is even worse for their health: smoking cigarettes.
A study released in May by the JAMA Network found that San Francisco, after passing a flavor ban in 2018, faced “more than doubled odds of recent smoking among underage high school students” compared to neighboring districts without a ban.
Our public policy must be guided by facts while seeking real solutions to problems, and the flavor ban would not have solved the issue. It would be a grave mistake to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, as this would likely lead more teens to smoke cigarettes.
Further, had the ban made it into law, Maine would have lost millions in revenues, hence the carveout that was just slashed from the budget.
As we saw in Massachusetts, which implemented a similar ban in June 2020, smokers simply went out of state to purchase what they could no longer buy at home, thus hurting tax revenues for the state while doing nothing to quell the problem.
The above graphic from the Tax Foundation illustrates how severely Massachusetts’ ban both hurt itself and boosted sales in neighboring states, like Maine.
On top of every reason mentioned above, e-cigarettes and vaping products serve as a viable substitute to smokers who are looking to quit. They can serve as a transitory product between smoking and fully quitting, to make the change more gradual.
To ban all of the products would also hurt law-abiding Mainers who use them responsibly.
Thankfully, this proposed ban, and the millions of dollars set aside to compensate for it, did not survive final budget negotiations. A standalone bill on the topic, LD 1550, has not been finally dispensed with by the legislature; however, so the idea remains alive for now.
Let’s hope the legislature takes this as a lesson and, in the future, acts in a more effective manner to curb nicotine addiction. A full-stop prohibition is not, and never will be, a real solution.