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Council Compromises on Flavored Tobacco Resolution

Eighth grader Kyla Robinson (on Zoom) addresses the City Council.

 Eighth grader Kyla Robinson (on Zoom) addresses the City Council. 

Photo: WSSR-TV 

By Zendelle Bouchard 

At the City Council’s regular meeting on Feb. 20, 2024, members of the Council debated a proposed resolution regarding flavored tobacco products, ultimately reaching a compromise that satisfied most Councilors.  

To start the discussion, Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy read the full text of the proposed resolution, which outlined the dangers of nicotine to adolescents, before getting to the controversial section, which stated that the City Council would enact an ordinance to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products if the state doesn’t enact legislation to ban those products. 

Councilor Pete Tranchemontagne said he was alarmed by that language and that he does not agree with it. He said most of the vaping materials being confiscated at the schools are purchased online from retailers in China, and that banning local sales would not solve the problem but would instead harm local businesses and consumers. He recommended instead that city officials work with the state to prevent minors from ordering vape products online. 

Herlihy responded that she would not side with business over the health and safety of children and cited the potential financial impact to the health care system and taxpayers. “The long-term cost is going to be on us” she said. She added that the flavored products are what get kids hooked, and that even adults who didn’t smoke before are starting to use the flavored products. 

Councilor Jonathan Martell said laws are already in place to prevent underage sales, and that he didn’t support telling adults what they can purchase. “This will work about as well as the prohibition of alcohol or marijuana in the past…and just provide a black market,” he said. 

Mayor Becky Brink supported the language, saying the more barriers that can be put in place making it harder for kids to access the products will lead to a reduction in use. She referred to statistics from a study on the statewide ban in Massachusetts, which showed a reduction in tobacco use among adults as well as youth after the ban was enacted. 

Councilor Bob Stackpole echoed Herlihy’s comments, citing the rise in the use of tobacco products since vaping was introduced. “The tobacco industry is lining their pockets, and you and I are paying for the health consequences,” he said. 

Councilor Ayn Hanselmann shared her daughter’s personal struggle with vaping. She was getting it from fellow students, Hanselmann said, not ordering it online. But she reminded her fellow Councilors that the point of the resolution was to encourage the state to act, so asked Tranchemontagne if he would support the resolution if the sentence about the City Council enacting an ordinance was removed. He said he would. 

The Council also heard from Assistant Superintendent of Schools Steve Bussiere, who said kids are starting to vape as young as fourth grade, and they are getting it from older siblings and parents as well as online. He said the School Department’s Substance Abuse Counselor works with students who are having difficulty withdrawing from the nicotine in vape products, and the schools work hard to educate students on the consequences of vaping infractions. 

In response to a question about installing vape monitors in the school restrooms, Bussiere said they have investigated them, but the monitors are only as good as the ability of staff to respond to the alarms, and the cost is significant. Bussiere added that flavored tobacco pouches are the latest product that is getting youth hooked on nicotine, so vaping is not the only problem.  

Reegan Hebert, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator at Southern Maine Health Care, commended the work the Sanford School Department has done on vaping and said she has used Sanford’s strategies with other school districts. She said kids are attracted by the flavors and don’t understand the addictive consequences. 

Finally, the Council heard from Kyla Robinson, an eighth grader at Sanford Middle School, who urged the Council to act. “Every day I see a bunch of students struggling to quit,” she said. 

Hanselmann motioned to amend the proposed resolution to state that, rather than enacting a ban, the Council will hold a public hearing on an ordinance to prohibit flavored tobacco products if the state fails to pass a statewide ban. The amendment passed 6-0. (Councilor Nate Hitchcock was absent.) 

The resolution sums up the city’s official position in the last paragraph, affirming that the Council supports the passage of LD1215, An Act to End the Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products, as a more effective means of deterring the use of flavored tobacco products and thereby protecting the health and safety of our youth. The vote on the full resolution was 5-1, with Martell voting in opposition.

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