In Last-Minute Maneuvering, Maine… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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In Last-Minute Maneuvering, Maine Legislature Strips Flavor Restrictions From Budget, Delivering Victory for Tobacco Industry over Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 30, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – We are deeply disappointed that the legislature is adjourning without ending the sale of the flavored tobacco products that are addicting Maine’s kids. Even as nearly one third of Maine youth now use tobacco products, the legislature caved to tobacco industry demands to strip from the supplemental budget a measure that would have prohibited the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes. 

Republicans on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee did Big Tobacco’s bidding by insisting the measure be removed before agreeing to support the final budget. In addition, the legislature supported a funding cut for the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program, which will dramatically curtail efforts that keep kids from starting to smoke and help adults to quit. This penny-wise but pound-foolish approach will hurt the state’s ability to remain a leader in the fight against tobacco use.

We strongly urge the legislature to act as soon as possible to end the sale of flavored tobacco products to protect Maine’s kids, promote health equity and defend public health. The effort to eliminate all flavored tobacco products had the strong support of the governor and much of the legislature.

Prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products is the right move to stop the tobacco industry from addicting a new generation of kids and reversing the enormous progress we have made in reducing youth tobacco use. Flavored products have fueled the current epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, with 30.2% of Maine high school students currently using e-cigarettes. Nationally, 3.6 million kids use e-cigarettes, with a growing percentage of them using e-cigarettes frequently or daily – a sure sign of addiction. We know that 83% of youth e-cigarette users use flavored products.

Flavored products have long been a favorite tobacco industry strategy for targeting kids, Black Americans, the LGBTQ community and other communities. Half of all kids who ever try smoking start with menthol cigarettes. The evidence shows that menthol makes it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. Because of the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing, 85% of Black smokers now smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to less than 10% in the 1950s. Menthol cigarettes are a major reason why tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans – claiming 45,000 Black lives every year – and why Black Americans have a harder time quitting smoking and are more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. 

In addition, cheap, flavored cigars – sold in hundreds of flavors like banana smash, cherry dynamite and chocolate – have flooded the market in recent years and fueled the popularity of these products with kids. According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, cigars are now the second most popular tobacco product, after e-cigarettes, among all high school students.

A poll commissioned by the Maine Public Health Association and funded by the Maine Cancer Foundation showed that adopting policies that protect Maine youth from tobacco addiction is a high priority for an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Maine voters. The survey found that 85% of Maine voters believe it is important to prevent Maine youth from using tobacco products. The poll also found that over two-thirds (68%) of Maine voters support ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products.