Contact: Dan Cashman, Sutherland Weston
AUGUSTA, ME – Flavored tobacco products are highly addictive, especially to kids as tobacco companies are marketing and even manufacturing the products in an effort to hook youth. That concern is the basis behind statewide legislation proposed to end the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide. The Flavors Hook Kids Maine coalition has been advocating for passing the legislation, which passed in the Maine Senate earlier this year and will likely be taken up by the Maine House of Representatives after the new year.
As kids are going back to school, Flavors Hook Kids Maine is warning parents that flavored tobacco products come in all shapes and sizes, and some are even disguised as school supplies.
“Tobacco companies will stop at nothing to try and hook kids,” said BJ McCollister, campaign manager for Flavors Hook Kids Maine. “The fact that they are disguising vaping devices as school supplies is the most disgusting example yet that big tobacco is desperately trying to get kids hooked on these harmful, dangerous products.”
Vaping products are being manufactured to look like USB drives, ballpoint pens, smartphone cases and smartwatches. There are also vaping backpacks and hoodies that hide tubing and a mouthpiece so the person wearing the article can inhale without being seen. There’s now even a vaping device that is practically indistinguishable from a highlighter. It provides 4,000 puffs according to the High Light Office 4 e-cigarette website, and is available in 20 flavors, including kid-friendly flavors like sweet mint and mango.
“Flavored tobacco has become a public health crisis; we deal with this every day,” said Helen Jolley, a PE and Health Teacher at Conners Emerson Elementary School in Bar Harbor. “Even our students at Conners Emerson who aren't using these products are seeing friends and older siblings use them, which raises their risk for using them as young people too, now or in the future. It's so obvious that these products are marketed toward children by the tobacco companies. Here in Bar Harbor, we have a local ordinance in place which will certainly help reduce access to these products - and many thanks to our town councilors for this support, but the state needs to protect the students from towns outside of Bar Harbor who attend schools in our district too. All kids in Maine deserve equal opportunity to resist the big tobacco companies.”
Bar Harbor passed a local ordinance ending the sale of flavored tobacco products in that community earlier this year. In addition to Bar Harbor, Bangor, Brunswick, Portland and South Portland have also passed comprehensive ordinances to protect kids. In Lewiston, school officials have discussed ways to eliminate vaping in schools.
"I'm proud that our City Council did the right thing and listened to the students about this problem,” said Sophia Ward, a junior at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor. “We have a better chance at a more successful school year this year because of their vote to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in Bangor. Investing in kids' futures isn't just about money. It's also about voting to do the right thing and the Maine House of Representatives will have the chance to follow the lead of Bangor, four other Maine communities and the Maine Senate. This vote to end the sale of flavored tobacco products is the best investment in our futures that can be made."
"As the parent of a 5th grader and a sophomore in high school, I am so happy that our city council put the health and safety of our children ahead of larger profits for big tobacco,” said Hillary Shende of Brunswick. “I have friends and relatives in other cities and towns where flavored tobacco products are still available, but it's time now to protect all kids in Maine. The state should pass a law ending the sale of flavored tobacco statewide."
As tobacco companies continue to target kids, more and more doctors are discouraging people from using e-cigarettes with mounting evidence about the health impacts, even as a smoking cessation tool. In July, new medical guidelines from the American College of Cardiology said that e-cigarettes have been shown to “increase heart rate, blood pressure and affect the ability of the blood vessels to relax” in young people.
"We know that flavored tobacco products are getting into the hands of our youth,” said Jo-Ellen Kelly, a recently retired public health professional who lives in Limestone and was directly involved in tobacco prevention work for many years. “And we know that tobacco companies actually want this to happen to protect their profits. Research shows that 95% of adult smokers started when they were teenagers. The State of Maine can protect our kids by voting in favor of ending the sale of flavored tobacco products when the House reconvenes in the new year. Let's collectively make sure that's a priority for our lawmakers."
The bill would end the sale of flavored tobacco products including, but not limited to, “any taste or smell relating to fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey or any candy, dessert, beverage, herb or spice; or a cooling or numbing sensation distinguishable by an ordinary consumer during the consumption of the tobacco product.” The bill does not propose penalizing purchase, use or possession of the products, but the enforcement is only directed at licensed tobacco retailers. The legislation is supported by a number of families, school administrators, students, and employers in the state.
Polling has been released showing vast support for ending the sale of flavored tobacco products. By a two-to-one margin, Maine voters support a law that would end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine. The poll finds that 63% of likely voters support the legislation, with more than half (53%) strongly favoring such a law, and nearly three-quarters (71%) being concerned about young people becoming addicted to tobacco products. The poll crosses partisan lines, all age demographics and geographic regions.
“Seeing this clear evidence that tobacco companies are targeting kids so blatantly, it’s easy to see why the vast majority of Mainers support ending the sale of flavored tobacco products,” said McCollister. “But, until then, parents need to stay vigilant. Just because something looks like a highlighter or a USB drive or a smartphone case, doesn’t mean it won’t be responsible for getting your kids addicted to harmful products. I hope parents can take a closer look at what’s in their kids' backpacks and have honest conversations about how bad these products are for their health.”
Dozens of partners have come together in support of the effort, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Christian Civic League, the Maine Children’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and a variety of local organizations. More details can be found at www.FlavorsHookKidsMaine.org.
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