Harmful for our children

Local jurisdictions can restrict the products luring kids into an unhealthy habit

The author, a physician and Butte County’s health officer, wrote this in honor of National Public Health Week, April 2-6.

Flavored tobacco products are marketed to children, are popular with children, and are creating additional generations of people addicted to tobacco products.

A recent report released by the California Medical Association finds that youth are attracted to sweet flavors and are more likely to try and continue using a tobacco product that is flavored. Just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and surgeon general have in the past, this study concludes that tobacco flavors like chocolate, strawberry and bubble gum help mask the harshness of tobacco and lure our kids who have never used tobacco products before into a lifetime of addiction.

But this is not news: In 2009, the FDA banned the use of flavors in traditional cigarettes on the basis that flavors are especially appealing to youth and that a ban on these products would help to reduce the number of young people who start smoking. However, menthol and other tobacco products—like cigars, hookah tobacco, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes—were excluded from this ban and are still allowed to be sold in flavored varieties. In fact, certain flavors used in tobacco are the exact same flavoring chemicals used in candies such as Jolly Ranchers, meaning that these tobacco products literally taste and smell like candy.

We know this marketing approach has been effective because the use of cigarettes among youth has declined over the past few years while the use of flavored e-cigarettes and hookahs has increased. If you doubt these flavors are attracting kids, just ask them—a recent study did just that and found that more than two-thirds of youth report using tobacco products because “they come in flavors I like.”

While the FDA decides on its next steps regarding flavored tobacco products, the good news is that local jurisdictions in California have the power to restrict or even prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products. We know that as long as tobacco products are allowed to be flavored, they will continue to entice our kids, whose lifetime health will suffer from an ongoing addiction to tobacco.