- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Portland City Council votes to end mask mandate, ban flavored tobacco

The Portland City Council voted unanimously on February 7 to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city.

The ban will take effect on June 1 in order to give the Portland Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention Team time to “develop and disseminate a retailer campaign and other educational resources” and in order to coordinate with a similar ban on flavored tobacco products passed by the Bangor City Council in October 2021.

The intent of the ban is to “address the increase in youth tobacco and nicotine use and prevent a new generation of addicted youth.”

The changes to Portland’s City Code, which the council voted to approve, include a new definition of flavored tobacco products as anything that “imparts a taste or smell, other than the taste or smell of tobacco, either prior to, or during the consumption of, a tobacco product.”

The definition of a tobacco product will also be changed to include natural or synthetic products derived from tobacco or nicotine. 

The ban was originally presented by the city’s Public Health division to Portland’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee in October 2021. 

In November 2021 the public safety committee voted to recommend the measure be taken up by the full city council. Councilor Tae Chong, the chair of the public safety committee, sponsored the order before the full City Council.

“The reason why we are bringing this order before us, it’s basically to prevent the most vulnerable among us, especially kids and people of color, and especially the LGBT community,” Chong said during the February 7 meeting.

Chong stated flavored tobacco bans are “not new to Maine” or the United States, where the policy exists in “over 300 municipalities across the country.”

According to Chong, the reasoning behind the flavored tobacco ban is that “the five popular types of cigarettes are flavored tobaccos for kids between 12 and 17.”

Before voting on the ban, the council heard over two hours of public comment from people on both sides of the issue.

During their February 7 meeting, the council also voted to repeal, rather than renew, the city’s indoor face covering mandate.

On January 3, the council voted to amend the city code to add a requirement that face coverings be worn in all public indoor spaces in the city. The measure was required to be reviewed every 30 days.

During their February 7 meeting, the council was slated to vote on extending the mask mandate until March, but instead voted to repeal it by a vote of seven to two.

The mandate will end on February 17, ten days following the council’s vote.

The city council also heard the first reading of an amendment to the city code that would have reinstated hazard pay while the mask mandate was in effect. The measure would require the minimum wage be increased to one and a half times the usual rate while the mask mandate was in effect, requiring employers to pay hourly wage workers $19.50 per hour. 

Hazard pay had previously been in effect, but the council voted to end it at their January 3 meeting.