To the Editor: Far from harmless

I have been in public health for 20 years and have spent the past 14 years in Downeast Maine, working with partners to create healthier communities, including tobacco free environments.

Twenty years ago, Maine helped lead the nation’s tobacco control efforts. We were one of a few states to put our Tobacco Settlement dollars toward public health programs, one of the first to pass legislation making restaurants smoke-free and the fifth state to adopt a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law, which extended the law to bars.

Unfortunately, the gains we made have been undermined by the introduction of vaping devices. As cigarette smoking became increasingly banned – legally and socially – the tobacco industry developed new products to get around indoor smoke-free laws. Cigarette smoking has declined, but as of 2019, nearly 1 in 3 high school students in Maine reported using some form of tobacco. We hear from students and adults that the number is much higher. With over 15,000 fruit, candy and dessert flavors, many young people don’t understand that e-cigarette aerosol isn’t just water vapor. We even hear of parents buying vapes for their kids because they think they are a harmless, candy-flavored novelty. But 99.6 percent of vaping products contain nicotine. Nicotine changes activity in parts of the adolescent brain responsible for attention, learning and memory. Nicotine addiction can also increase risk for addiction to other substances.

During educational presentations, students share that they watch TikTok and see colorful ads for fun vape flavors like Unicorn Milk and Bubble Gum. In some classrooms, a majority of students report that either they smoke, they‘ve tried it, their older siblings vape and/or that their parents are smoking more now than before they switched to vaping. Four out of five kids who use tobacco started with a flavored product.

The tobacco industry is trying to hook another generation. Let’s keep Maine on the map as a leader in tobacco prevention. Let’s give young people the best chance to lead healthy, productive lives free from addiction. By supporting LD 1550, we can end the sale of flavored tobacco products in Maine.

Maria Donahue

Southwest Harbor

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