As a state representative, I feel compelled to spread awareness and protect those most vulnerable in Maine. There is a menacing epidemic plaguing adolescents in our state, and we have the power to stop it in its tracks.

Flavored tobacco products are ruthlessly hooking our children into a lifetime of tobacco addiction. Currently, 33% of Maine’s teens use tobacco products and four out of five of teen tobacco users say they were first introduced with a flavored tobacco product. Big tobacco companies are essentially misleading users into believing that flavored tobacco is a “healthier” alternative to traditional tobacco. The reality is flavored tobacco products are just as dangerous as traditional smoking.

Vaping and e-cigarettes are among the most harmful products on the market. When these products are inhaled, tiny metal particles are released into the lungs, causing permanent scarring and life-threatening diseases. Often the levels of nicotine are much stronger than regular cigarettes and drive the addiction faster and stronger.

Big tobacco companies target children with sweet candy flavors like Gummy Bears, Cotton Candy, and Blue Raspberry. These flavors are highly addictive and nearly impossible to quit. Teens prefer flavored products  because the flavors mask the harsh taste of tobacco. In addition, flavored tobacco products are sold in trendy packaging and even feature cartoon characters. This is wrong.

Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products targets the core of the addiction. The momentum has begun with Portland and Bangor. Both cities have made the bold statement that profits are not more important than the health and well-being of our kids.

It is time for my colleagues in the Legislature to vote on this bill and end the sale of flavored tobacco products. Big tobacco shouldn’t control our kids’ health and safety. Maine should rally together and show support for LD 1550, An Act to End The Sale of Flavored Tobacco.

Let’s lead the way and do the right thing.

State Rep. Jan Dodge, D-Belfast, represents House District 97, including Belfast, Northport and Waldo.

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