As a physician, I know firsthand the burden tobacco use places on patients and I support evidence-based tobacco control measures that prevent the unnecessary suffering and death that results from tobacco use. Since the vast majority of adult tobacco users start before age 18, making tobacco products less accessible and attractive to teenagers is key to eliminating tobacco-related death and disease.
That’s why I support the comprehensive provisions of the Albany County Legislature’s Local Law E which directly address flavors as a primary factor in the youth appeal of tobacco products. Restricting the sale of all flavored tobacco products ensures we avoid repeating the mistake made in 2009 when the federal government banned only the sale of flavored cigarettes, excepting menthol.
Here’s what happened.
In 2009, the federal government passed the Family Smoking and Tobacco Prevention Act which banned the sale of flavored cigarettes other than menthol. The law allowed the continued sale of menthol cigarettes and other candy and fruit-flavored tobacco products including smokeless tobacco, little cigars and cigarillos. Then e-cigarettes hit the market in what seemed to be an infinite number of flavors including gummi bear, berry smash, watermelon wave and smooth menthol.
In the decade since the federal ban on flavored cigarettes went into effect, we have witnessed a tobacco flavor explosion. There are now more than 15,000 e-cigarette flavors and 200 cigar flavors, and more keep coming.
The 2009 ban on flavored cigarettes succeeded in reducing the rate of youth cigarette smoking by more than half. But among youth who continued smoking cigarettes, their use of menthol cigarettes increased by 45 percent. And unsurprisingly, youth use of flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes also increased. By 2014, with the widespread availability of flavored e-cigarettes, youth use of e-cigarettes eclipsed the rate of youth cigarette and other tobacco use combined.
As of 2018 in New York state, nearly one in every three high school students had used a tobacco product, a rate of youth tobacco product use not seen since the year 2000.
Flavors in tobacco products attract kids, make it easier for them to start by masking the irritants present in the inhaled smoke and aerosol, and make it harder for them to quit.
I applaud Albany County for their leadership in ending the sale of tobacco in pharmacies and raising the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21. I urge the Legislature to strengthen local efforts to curb youth tobacco use by passing Local Law E.
Steven D. Hanks, MD, MMM, FACP, FFSMB
Chief Clinical Officer
St. Peter’s Health Partners