By Jessica Sims, MD, MPH, American Heart Association Volunteer Expert and Advocate
Tobacco companies are at it again, and they are targeting our kids. Flavors like minty menthol, strawberry, grape and cotton candy are being used to hook our kids, leading to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Why flavors? Because they mask the harshness of tobacco and make it easier to addict our children.
The City of Los Angeles will have an opportunity to stop this vicious cycle of nicotine addiction when it decides on legislation to eliminate the sale of flavored tobacco products from the market in California’s largest city.
The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey released in September by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bears out the urgent need for action.
Results from the survey showed that being home from school for months during the pandemic did not keep more than 2 million middle and high school students from using e-cigarettes. And it’s no surprise that an overwhelming 80 percent of the students who used e-cigarettes preferred flavored products. Tobacco companies spend millions to market flavored tobacco products like “Unicorn Sprinkles,” “Cotton Candy” and “Blueberry Smurf,” which are clearly targeted to kids.
We all know that Big Tobacco also has a decades-long history of disproportionately targeting and enticing African Americans and other people of color with minty menthol flavored products. Case in point: Nearly 85% of African American smokers and close to 47% of Latino smokers use menthol products. Black Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related death of any racial or ethnic group in the country, with nearly 45,000 dying annually of smoking-related illness.
The American Heart Association believes far too many lives have been destroyed by tobacco. As a concerned parent and a physician, I strongly believe that solving the problem and ensuring our kids have a fair chance to live a full, healthy life requires bold action.
We urge the Los Angeles City Council to protect the health of our kids and give them a chance to grow up healthy by putting an end to the sale of all flavored tobacco products.