BANGOR, Maine — Bangor becomes the first city in Maine to ban flavored tobacco, starting on June 1 of 2022.
Councilors voted to amend the ordinance, which added the June 1 date.
"I think there is a lot we can do with education, there is a lot we can do working with the school, and all of this I think it's better dealt with in the long run, in the context of some state action rather than local action, however my preference is to enact this ordinance tonight as it stands and to delay the implementation day until after the next legislative session," said Bangor city councilor Jonathan Sprague.
The Bangor ban in June would apply to any flavored tobacco products sold in the city.
The push to ban all flavored tobacco products in Bangor is an effort to protect teens against this addicting product.
According to a survey by the Maine Integrated Youth Health survey by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, 30% of Maine high school students use E-cigarettes or tobacco, a rate that has nearly doubled in the past two years.
"The menthol is a big part for a lot of the businesses in town, and I am not sure it is going to really help what they are trying to do is to prevent the youth from starting to smoke because you'd be able to go to Hermon, you'd be able to go to Brewer,” Bangor city council chair Dan Tremble said.
"Businesses do matter, I do want a good strong local economy but it's also thinking on the flip side the costs of getting someone hooked to tobacco in their youth, what those costs are on our entire economy is, I mean then we have the healthcare costs that strain our system here,” said councilor Sarah Nichols, who proposed the ordinance.
"Our school department actually wrote that it was becoming a serious issue in our high school," Nichols said. "I am voting yes because I care about protecting them [kids]."
Councilor Gretchen Schaefer shared at the council city meeting that she was addicted to nicotine when young, she said she is torn on this debate, and initially voted no. She soon after voted yes, after the ordinance was amended in support of hearing what members of the Maine legislature have to say when they reconvene.
Councilor Rick Fournier said he's been on the fence on this topic, he sees both sides and agrees that tobacco and vaping are "horrible." He initially voted no then voted yes after the amendment.
"This is hurting local business and it's just going to drive people to the next town over to get what they want, and I just don't feel that's right for Bangor," Fournier said before the amendment.
Councilor Jonathan Sprague said this is the single issue that has drawn the most discussion since he started serving. He says the issue is complex and has many years of experience in the public health field.
"For the teenage population, the single biggest health risk is smoking and vaping," Sprague, who proposed to amend the ordinance, said.
"We've had extensive opportunity to listen, to read, multiple public hearings, and I don't believe we've kept anybody in the dark...I think retailers are doing their job the best they can to prevent the sales to youth," Sprague said.
Councilor Okafor said she is voting yes because she doesn't want her own children and their friends to be unhealthy.
"I live these two sides of the situation as a parent and as a business owner...the future of our children...as a community we are struggling with the opioid pandemic and then we would have to add this pandemic too...we don't have any guarantee that our children will turn out right or successful...that is why we are parents and we strive for our children, so as a mother and as a parent who loves this community, I will vote yes on this, "said Okafor.
The only councilor who voted against the amended ordinance was city council chair Dan Tremble. He owns Fairmount Market on Hammond Street in Bangor, he said he doesn't sell any of those fruit-flavored products, just menthol products.
"I think we would probably have a unanimous vote if it was just to ban these flavored cigarettes and flavored vape, outside of the menthol people would say yeah that makes sense," Tremble said.
"Children who use tobacco products are two times more likely to start smoking combustible cigarettes within two years than kids who don't vape," Rebecca Boulis, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association, said.
Megan Diver works for the Maine Energy Marketers Association. She said this ban would be detrimental to many businesses.
"It penalizes Maine retailers. These retailers in Maine have a 94% compliance rate. They check everyone's IDs, and I think that it would be really detrimental to their businesses and a lot of them are small business owners in our state," Diver said.