Maine Weighs Menthol Flavor Ban

House vote on the bill targeting flavored tobacco and vape products could come this week.

May 17, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Another state has moved closer to a potential ban on flavored tobacco products. Last week, the Maine Health and Human Services Committee voted out of committee a bill that would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine, including menthol cigarettes, wintergreen dip, flavored cigars and vaping products.

The bill, LD-1550, is sponsored by state Representative Michele Meyer (D-Eliot) and could come before a full House vote as early as Wednesday. If it passes the House the measure still has to go to the Senate.

Testifying before the HHS committee last week, Jon Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, pointed to the experience of Massachusetts, which passed a similar ban on flavored tobacco products last June. There’s evidence that residents there now drive to New Hampshire or Rhode Island to buy flavored tobacco products, reducing tax revenue for Massachusetts coffers. Shaer noted the menthol cigarette industry in Maine is worth $120 million.

Anthony Miranda, executive chairman for the National Latino Officers Association, told Maine  legislators that the bill would fuel the black market for flavored tobacco, NBC Maine reports.

As NACS Daily reported in April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in April that it would move within a year to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. 

Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, testified last week at the Maine Health and Human Services Committee that legislators should delay any action on the bill pending the FDA’s rule.

“With such a wide-sweeping regulation being proposed, the Maine legislature should pause and allow the FDA to proceed with its proposed rule, which focuses on some of the same flavored tobacco products that would be prohibited under the terms of [the Maine bill],” he said.

At least eight states are considering legislation this year that would ban sales of all flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, vaping products and smokeless tobacco such as snuff or chew, the Associated Press reports.

Speaking of the move to ban menthol tobacco products at the federal level, Lyle Beckwith, NACS senior vice president of government relations, noted that “Menthol makes up more than 37% of the tobacco market. That demand will not go away due to a ban. NACS is on record opposing menthol bans as we believe illicit vendors will quickly source and begin selling foreign and counterfeit menthol cigarettes. Illicit vendors do not verify age, do not collect and remit taxes, and they sell other illegal products beyond just menthol cigarettes.”