AUGUSTA – Early Friday, lawmakers discussed how to crack down on the illegal sales of tobacco products to minors.
For decades, underage smoking has been a significant issue.
Now technology has shifted today’s youth from primarily smoking cigarettes to also smoking e-cigarettes and other vaping products.
Currently, cigarette use among high school students in Maine is trending downward.
“From 8.8% in 2017, to 7.1% in 2019. But the behavior of vaping did increase,” said Christine Theriault, an official from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2018, the legal age to buy tobacco products was raised to 21, but that hasn’t stopped some minors from getting their hands on them.
According to Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Reardon, one way minors are getting the products is through online retailers, even though it is illegal to sell tobacco products, including vaping products over the internet due to the passing of the retail tobacco act.
Reardon said the challenge is enforcing that law.
“What we have been doing is receiving reports and reaching out specifically to all online retailers that we can find and asking for them to alter their website, make it clear that they are not selling in Maine, both to us and with some sort of writing on the website itself,” Reardon.
She said another way the law is being enforced is through attorney general’s office sending undercover agents to retail stores directly and having the agents lookout for reports of sales of tobacco products.
She said most online retailers are willing to comply, but they are unaware of the retail tobacco act so raising awareness is yet another challenge going forward.