Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Maine. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Maine calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Restore the tobacco control funding cut last year and reject further attempts to divert funding from the Fund for Healthy Maine;
- Defend existing tobacco control laws from potential attempts to repeal Tobacco 21, and rollbacks to our smokefree laws through the creation of cigar bars and marijuana social clubs; and
- Enact a $1.50 cigarette tax increase.
The 2017 session of the Maine Legislature was a rollercoaster of highs and lows for tobacco control efforts. The session opened in early January with the Governor's budget proposal virtually gutting the Maine Tobacco Control program by diverting in excess of $10 million to supplant costs in the MaineCare (Medicaid program). After tense negotiations including a state government shutdown, the end result was still a program cut – but it was reduced to approximately $2.5 million in tobacco control funding for the first year of the biennium. The restoration of these funds remains the top priority of the Lung Association in Maine and partners in the next session.
The sting of tobacco program cuts was relieved somewhat when Maine became the first state in the Northeast to pass legislation raising the retail sales age of tobacco products to 21. The Maine Legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of initial enactment of the bill. However, Governor LePage vetoed the legislation. In the final hours of the legislative session the Legislature overrode the Governor's veto by a one vote margin resulting in the Tobacco 21 bill becoming law. The legislation is effective on July 1, 2018.
Two other successes were realized in Maine during the 2017 session. A perennial bill to allow the creation of cigar bars was soundly defeated by a 25-7 margin. Lastly, a bill to increase access to cessation products for MaineCare (Medicaid) patients became law. Previously in order for MaineCare coverage of Nicotine Replacement Therapy a Medicaid recipient had to have a prescription to receive NRTs without out-of-pocket costs. Legislation was enacted which will allow pharmacists to dispense and be reimbursed for NRTs without a prescription which should result in increased utilization by a vulnerable population with a high smoking rate.
The American Lung Association in Maine will continue to work with our coalition partners the Maine Public Health Association, the American Heart Association, Maine Medical Association, American Cancer Society and others to advance tobacco control and prevention efforts and defend our successful programs and smokefree policies against rollbacks. As the legislature begins its work in 2018 we will continue to grow our coalition to educate policy makers, business leaders and the media of the importance of the Lung Association's goals to reduce tobacco use and protect public health.