House bill would ban flavored tobacco products in Maryland

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Maryland lawmakers are considering a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products, from cigars to menthol cigarettes and vaping products.

Supporters of House Bill 134 contend the measure is designed to protect children. But members of the House Economic Matters and Health and Government Operations committees, which held a hearing Wednesday for the legislation, questioned whether it goes too far.

Vape180, which has had two shops in Annapolis for almost a decade, carries a clever anti-cigarette message: Vaping is 180 degrees away from smoking tobacco.

But what lawmakers are considering is making store management and employees anxious. The legislation calls for a statewide ban on all flavored tobacco products.

“We are actually pretty nervous about it right now. The primary reason is, during the pandemic, the last thing we want to do is to have our primary source of income taken away from us and have to file unemployment ourselves,” said Tyler Ebadi, general manager of Vape180.

Bill supporters said they believe a ban will help keep the product away from children. According to a recent national survey, vaping among schoolchildren has doubled in recent years.

Supporters of the bill blamed the increase on predatory marketing — especially in minority communities — that they said have a goal to create a new generation of tobacco users.

“It is immoral, it’s discriminatory and it must come to an end,” said the bill’s sponsor, Prince George’s County Delegate Jazz Lewis, D-District 24.

Prosecutors contend tobacco companies are exploiting young people by making flavored products seem like candy.

“In the last few years, tobacco companies have been offering 1,500 products, including mint or menthol gummy bears and cotton candy,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said.

Committee members took issue with including cigars in the ban, asking whether the bill could be amended to allow adults to continue vaping. One member suggested increasing fines for selling to minors rather than going forward with a total ban.

“(I’m) definitely amenable to talk with the committee,” Lewis said.

Management at Vape180 said they check IDs, saying most customers are between 30 and 60 years old.

“People are going to order what they want from online, and online doesn’t have the same register we have, and our biggest fear is people getting unsafe products from unreliable sources,” Ebadi said.

The House bill is expected to be amended. The Senate is considering legislation that would only take menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products out of convenience stores.

David Collins/WBAL