We have a problem. Kids are being targeted – again – by the tobacco industry.

This is nothing new. There is a long, well-documented history of tobacco companies using flavors, bright packaging, and the image of “cool” to entice kids to start using tobacco. Once they start – as we all know – it becomes very difficult to stop. Along with a continuation of smoking comes layers of health problems that have long term negative effects on them as they get older.

Flavored tobacco is the product du jour for the industry. Flavors like Peppermint Mocha, Cherry Crush, Banana Blast and Orange Soda are being sold for e-cigarettes as a way to hook younger people. Just like they’ve done for decades, the industry has found a way once again to get in front of our kids, dupe them into trying something new, and create a new generation of nicotine addictions.

What we eventually found is that vaping is far from harmless.

One Juul pod, for example, contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. Juul is a high-tech device that is disguised as a USB drive to entice kids. But this isn’t just about Juul. Menthol cigarettes are the most dangerous flavored tobacco product. The flavoring makes it easier to start and become addicted to cigarettes. It masks the taste of the tobacco and numbs the throat, making the smoke easier to inhale more deeply.

Why are the tobacco companies targeting kids? Because they know that 95 percent of adult smokers start by the time they turn 21. These flavored tobacco products are not being produced for adults. They’re being produced specifically to hook kids earlier.


That is a significant problem.

The good news is that we can put an end to it. In Bangor, we did just that.

In 2021, while I was serving on the Bangor City Council, we voted to end the sale of flavored tobacco products within the city. Why? Because, as a community, we owed it to our kids to provide them with as many opportunities as possible to grow up healthy and without addiction being masked as candy lurking in front of them every day.

Teachers and principals told us that e-cigarette use is out of control in schools and that kids are starting younger and younger. It’s easier to mask the use of e-cigarettes because the smells are not as harsh, they don’t linger on clothes, and the devices resemble a USB drive.As a kid in high school or middle school, it can be tough to imagine getting hooked on something like vaping. The harmful effects are not as visible as other addictive products and kids in that age range can sometimes feel invincible to the challenges around them.

When naivety runs rampant enough to create an epidemic, putting kids’ health and futures at risk, that’s when it is the responsibility of the community to step in and help.

The city of Portland will be considering ending the sale of flavored tobacco products. The town of Brunswick will be doing the same, just as Bangor did a few months ago. As a former local elected official, I urge you to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in the place that you live, and to do it for the health and safety of your community.

It is possible that the Maine Legislature will also be taking up this issue this year as well. A statewide approach would be ideal, though local action is critical in the meantime. If the Legislature acts on this, I will be on the phone to my representatives, and I hope you will join me in doing the same.

— Special to the Press Herald

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