An ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco within city limits has passed its first hurdle after the city’s government operations committee unanimously voted Wednesday to send it to the Bangor City Council.
If enacted by the council, the ordinance as currently drafted would ban the sale or marketing of all flavored tobacco products in the city — including menthol cigarettes and e-cigarette flavors that have a taste or smell other than that of tobacco — on Jan. 1, 2022.
Retailers who continued to sell or market such products would first face a warning, and then a $50 to $100 fine for their next offense within a two-year period after the warning. A fine of $300 to $1,000 would then be levied for each additional offense within that two-year period. Responsibility for enforcing the policy on retailers would fall on the city manager.
Those who spoke during the public comment section were almost unanimous in their support. Representatives of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine Public Health Association, the Bangor YMCA, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Action Network and the American Lung Association either explicitly supported the ordinance or argued that the availability of flavored tobacco harmed children.
Bangor School Department Superintendent James Tager also spoke strongly in support in a letter drafted with Bangor School Committee Chair Carin Sychterz, school committee vice chair Marwa Hassanien and Bangor schools’ Title XI coordinator Dana Carver-Bialer. Their letter noted that the department had seen students in Bangor schools use flavored tobacco products.
The lone voice in opposition was Stephen Brough, a Bangor resident who ran for City Council in 2020. He argued that the ban was unneeded because it was already illegal for those under 21 to purchase tobacco products in Maine.
“If they are getting their hands on products of any kind, flavored or not, they are already breaking the law,” Brough said.
But supporters of the ordinance said children would find ways of acquiring the products as long as they were available from retailers. And data were clear that use at a young age could lead to a lifelong nicotine addiction, they said.
About 85 percent of high schoolers and 74 percent of middle schoolers who used tobacco in the last 30 days reported using flavored tobacco during that time, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which argues that flavoring can make tobacco products more appealing to youth.
Matt Moonen, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group EqualityMaine, initially brought the matter to committee chair and city councilor Sarah Nichols, according to committee documents. Moonen argued to the committee that aggressive marketing of flavored tobacco products had particularly impacted LGBTQ youth, who are more likely than others to use tobacco.
There was no opposition on the matter from the government operations committee, with Nichols leading the way on passage.
“This is definitely not what I want for my kids or for any person,” said councilor Angela Okafor.
Several speakers, including former Maine state senator and Bangor city councilor Geoff Gratwick, said that Bangor taking the step could help lead to a ban on flavored tobacco across the state — legislation to do so is currently going through the Maine Legislature.
About 10 people attended the hearing in-person with another 21 attending via Zoom.
The ordinance will now receive two readings by the Bangor City Council before it can become law.