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Council to Consider Ban on Sales of Flavored Tobacco Products

Young Lady Vaping.

The mist produced by vaping is not water vapor, but aerosolized chemicals.

Photo by lexphumirat via Pixabay.

By Zendelle Bouchard

The Sanford City Council is getting ready to consider a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored vape pens and liquid. Vape liquid is classified as a tobacco product because it contains nicotine derived from tobacco. Tobacco products flavored with fruit or candy have been shown to be the overwhelming preference of middle and high schoolers, according to the US CDC.

The proposed ban has been on the radar of City and School Department officials for some time. Data from the 2022 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey showed that students at Sanford Middle School reported vaping at twice the state average. In the Survey, which was taken in the fall of 2021, one in five Sanford High School students reported vaping in the previous 30 days. Beth Letourneau, Director of School Counseling said she thought the actual number was much higher, and then-Student Representative John Paul Alexandre agreed. The minimum legal age to purchase vape products, also known as e-cigarettes, is 21 in Maine and most other states.

Flavored tobacco products were banned in Massachusetts following an outbreak of E-Cigarette/Vaping use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) in 2019/20, which resulted in the deaths of several people. Data on the outbreak showed a strong correlation with vaping THC and vitamin E acetate, but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to rule out other chemicals used in vape fluid, according to the CDC. Several other states have enacted bans since then. Mayor Becky Brink said vaping by young people “is going to be a big impact on health in another ten years.” The trend is too new for cancer researchers to know what the long-term effects will be.

There is currently a bill before the Maine legislature that would ban flavored tobacco products statewide. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy said bans by Sanford and other communities will encourage legislators to act. Community Development Director Ian Houseal added that a ban by Sanford would send a message to the state to do a better job enforcing the existing laws regarding resale of tobacco products. “Kids are getting them somewhere,” he said. City Manager Steve Buck suggested including an effective date for any ban to be implemented, to give time for retailers to sell down their existing stock.

Buck has gathered information from several other Maine communities where such bans have been enacted (Portland, South Portland, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Brunswick) to develop proposed amendments to Chapter 215 of the City Code, which regulates smoking and tobacco use. In Sanford, retailers of tobacco products must be licensed annually. According to City Clerk Sue Cote, there are 20 licensed tobacco retailers in Sanford/Springvale.

The proposed ban of any tobacco product which has a flavor other than tobacco itself would apply to sales only. The proposed amendments do not prohibit the possession and use of flavored tobacco products purchased elsewhere. Use of any tobacco products is not permitted in the “Safe Zones” designated by the City, which include parks and recreation areas.

At its Jan. 9, 2024, meeting, the Municipal Operations and Property Subcommittee reviewed the details of the amendments. The two members in attendance, Mayor Brink and Deputy Mayor Herlihy, were in agreement to proceed with a legal review of the proposed amendments by the City’s attorneys. (Councilor Ayn Hanselmann was away on vacation.) Brink said she has received more emails from constituents on this issue than any other, with all in favor of a ban. She added that several other mayors across the state are considering bans as well.

Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson said that school districts are using several methods to combat youth vaping. Brunswick has installed vape detectors in the school bathrooms. In Sanford, he said they are using education and enforcement, as well as providing support to kids who have become addicted. He said Falmouth will be joining the list of communities banning flavored tobacco products in March.

The Subcommittee reviewed a study showing that the Massachusetts ban has reduced smoking and vaping among adults as well as youth. The study showed that from 2019 to 2021, e-cigarette use among youth declined from 32% to 17.6%. Read a fact sheet on the study here: https://assets.tobaccofreekids.org/factsheets/0421.pdf

The proposal will come before the full Council for a public hearing and vote, probably in late February or early March.

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