The Sacramento City Council is facing a critical opportunity to protect two vulnerable populations — youths and minorities — who are being lured by flavored tobacco products into a potential lifetime addiction to nicotine.
On Tuesday, a council committee wisely advanced to the full council a proposed restriction on flavored tobacco sales that includes menthol cigarettes long marketed disproportionately to communities of color, as well as candy-flavored e-cigarettes that are quickly turning into a public health crisis in local schools.
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Ending the sale of these tobacco products is an issue of both health and social justice. Young people who smoke menthol cigarettes are often African American, Asian American, LGBTQ and from low-income communities already significantly impacted by tobacco-related disease. Candy-flavored tobacco products are being marketing to youth intentionally as a way of replacing adult smokers of traditional cigarettes as they die off.
Menthol and candy-flavored tobacco products are a key part of the tobacco industry’s strategy to bait youth into becoming tomorrow’s addicts. The industry shamelessly tries to maximize profits while its customers suffer death and disease, and local taxpayers continue to foot the bill for tobacco-related illnesses.
According to a government study, 81 percent of kids who have tried tobacco started with a flavored product and 70 percent of current youth tobacco users have used a flavored tobacco product in the past month.
The anesthetizing effect of menthol and the fruity flavors of e-cigarettes mask the harsh taste of tobacco, making it more appealing to new users. Those who begin using flavored tobacco products are more likely to progress to regular smoking.
Don’t forget, smoking still causes nearly half a million deaths annually in the U.S. In fact, tobacco kills more people than guns, alcohol, car crashes and illegal drugs combined.
San Francisco recently enacted the most comprehensive flavored tobacco sales restrictions in the country after a lengthy and brutal battle against Big Tobacco, which poured nearly $12 million into fighting the historic new law.
Now, the tobacco industry is coming to Sacramento to fight similar protections for children here. Sacramento should join municipalities as diverse as Beverly Hills, Richmond and Yolo County, plus two dozen other cities and counties in California that have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products.
Let’s keep the next generation from a powerful and potentially lethal nicotine addiction.