AUGUSTA, Maine — In an effort to improve public health in the state, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Tuesday, July 2, designed to prevent the use of tobacco among Mainers.

The bill, "An Act To Prevent and Reduce Tobacco Use with Adequate Funding and by Raising the Tax on Tobacco Products", was sponsored by Rep. Joyce "Jay" McCreight (D-Harpswell). 

"To reduce the toll taken on the health of Mainers, on health care costs, on loss of worker productivity, and on our state budget, we need to both prevent youth from becoming tobacco users and support current tobacco users of any age to quit," said McCreight in a statement, regarding the initiative for the bill. "This comprehensive approach will provide the incentives and resources needed to protect Mainers from the health risks associated with tobacco use."

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The new law will equalize the tax on all tobacco products to be in line with the 43% tax on the wholesale price of cigarettes.

For instance, if the tax on cigarettes increases, the tax on these other tobacco products -- including pipe tobacco, small and large cigars, and e-cigarette products -- will be adjusted to match the rate of tax increase.

The law will also set aside a little less than $7.4 million from the General Fund until the end of fiscal year 2021 for programs to help prevent and end tobacco use in Maine. The House Democratic Office says that money will be matched federally and offset by the tax revenue from the tax increase on tobacco products.

$9.2 million will be designated to supporting rural hospital and ambulance services. 

The bill passed the Maine House on June 20 at 86-49. It passed the Senate that same day, 23-12. 

"Closing this tax loophole will not only serve as a major deterrent for youth tobacco use, but it will help fund lifesaving measures with Maine CDC’s Tobacco Control Program," a spokesperson for the Lung Association said in a statement as a response to Mills' decision to sign the bill into law. "At a time when youth e-cigarette use has been called a national epidemic, this measure will have a meaningful impact on protecting Maine’s young people from a beginning a lifetime of tobacco addiction."

These changes are expected to go into effect on January 2, 2020.