Under the guise of “protecting the children,” lawmakers in Maine are attempting to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products. While protecting children from the harms of adult products is laudable, this prohibition is effectively punishing adults for the failures of poorly executed and inadequately funded tobacco control programs. Worse, Maine stands to lose millions (if not billions of dollars) in the long term from tobacco-generated revenues that would otherwise help to fund said tobacco control programs.
The sponsor of the bill claims the legislation is monumental and that lawmakers have “few other bills [they] have considered together that have the potential to make such a significant impact on the health of Maine kids and communities.”
Unfortunately, there are a plethora of other ways Maine legislators can address youth use of age-restricted products. Legislation that allocates existing tobacco monies procured by both taxes and settlement payments borne by cigarettes toward programs that can help adult smokers quit, as well as prevent youth use, should be implemented immediately.
In 1997, Maine joined the growing list of other states and sued major cigarette manufacturers to compensate Medicaid spending on smoking-related healthcare issues. It settled with the tobacco manufacturers as a party in the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). Under the MSA, states receive annual payments in perpetuity that consist of percentages of sales of cigarettes sold in the respective state.
Early on, Maine used these monies on tobacco control programs. In a 2003 U.S. Senate committee hearing, Maine was lauded for dedicating substantial portions of its tobacco settlement payments “to fund comprehensive tobacco prevention programs.”
Unfortunately, Maine hasn’t consistently dedicated such funding. For example, in 2000, Maine allocated $18.8 million toward tobacco control programs and received an estimated $74.9 million in cigarette taxes and $44.3 million in tobacco settlement payments. Essentially, Maine spent 15.8 percent of tobacco monies on programs to help smokers quit and/or prevent use.
In 2019, the Pine Tree State spent only $4.8 million in state funding on tobacco control programs. This was roughly 2.5 percent of the $112.8 million and $78 million the state received in cigarette taxes and tobacco settlement payments (collectively) during the same period.
In 2019, 17.6 percent of Maine adults were current smokers and 13.9 percent were daily smokers, amounting to 152,256 adults. When figuring a pack-per-day habit in 2019, more than 1.1 billion cigarettes were smoked in the year or about three million per day.
In 2019, Maine imposed a state excise tax of $2 per pack. That amounts to $730 per year for a pack-per-day smoker. The $4.8 million in tobacco control funding amounts to only $24.90 per smoker per year and a shockingly low $19.29 per resident under 18 years old.
Even more problematic is the bill would effectively eliminate tobacco harm reduction options for the hundreds of thousands of Maine adult smokers by removing flavors from vapor products. There is evidence that these products have reduced smoking rates among young adults.
In the 10 years after e-cigarette product market emergence, smoking rates among 18 to 24-year-olds decreased 24.5 percent from 18.4 percent of current smokers being young adults in 2009 to only 13.9 percent of smokers being between the age of 18 and 24 years old.
Adding insult to injury, the proposed ban would ultimately benefit New Hampshire – the lone northeastern state that still respects adult rights. In June 2020, a total flavor ban went into effect in the Granite State’s southern neighbor Massachusetts. This ban prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco and vapor products, including menthol cigarettes.
New Hampshire ought to thank those Bay Staters for an increase in cigarette sales tax revenues. The Tax Foundation found cigarette sales in New Hampshire grew 55.8 percent between June 2019 and June 2020. Moreover, in the first six months of fiscal year 2021, the Granite State collected $130.6 million in tobacco tax revenue – or 66 percent of what the state collected in the entire 2019 fiscal year. Should Maine follow Massachusetts, New Hampshire can expect even more visitors, and more excise tax revenue, to follow through that is borne by the lungs of smokers in other states. In a weird twist, New Hampshire will actually be collecting tax and settlement payment monies from smokers in other states, while those states will lose funding that could be used to help them quit.
Rather than limit the options of adult smokers and ex-smokers, Pine Tree State legislators ought to return to using existing tobacco monies on tobacco control programs. An adequately funded tobacco control program that works in tandem with all players involved including manufacturers, retailers, and local and state health and education departments. This would address youth use and prevention.