Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations working to reduce youth tobacco use, today issued a statement on the news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may soon ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarette pods in gas stations and convenience stores.
Molly Moilanen, Director of Public Affairs at ClearWay Minnesota and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, said, “The FDA can and should use its full legal authority without delay in regulating tobacco products – especially in light of what they are rightly calling a youth e-cigarette epidemic.”
Moilanen continued, “We look forward to seeing the full details of the FDA’s plan and hope they will move quickly and decisively. Removing flavored e-cigarette pods, which are extremely popular among teens, from places youth frequent is a welcome first step toward curbing youth addiction. We also urge the FDA to take swift action to restrict menthol tobacco products, which would help reduce tobacco-related disparities.”
She added, “We urge policy-makers across Minnesota to lead the way with strong local and statewide policies that protect our youth from lifetime tobacco addiction – including raising the tobacco age to 21, restricting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, adding e-cigarettes to clean indoor air policies and investing in proven tobacco prevention and cessation programs.”
In addition to federal action, state and local governments can also combat commercial tobacco use. To date, 15 Minnesota cities have passed Tobacco 21 policies, nine have passed tobacco flavor restrictions and five have passed menthol restrictions.
The tobacco industry blatantly continues to use menthol, candy and fruit flavors to attract the next generation of smokers. In 2009, the FDA banned the use of most flavoring agents, except menthol, in cigarettes. However, that ban does not include other tobacco products such as little cigars and cigarillos, or emerging products like e-cigarettes. Internal documents from the tobacco industry show that tobacco companies know that young people are attracted to flavors in tobacco products. Research also has found that most kids start smoking by using flavored tobacco products.
Menthol tobacco flavoring makes it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for adults to quit. The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting youth, African Americans, women and LGBTQ communities with menthol tobacco marketing. Nationally, 88 percent of African American smokers smoke menthols, compared to 29 percent of white smokers.
Flavored tobacco products have helped contribute to the first increase in youth tobacco use in 17 years in Minnesota. The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than 60 percent of youth tobacco users reported using flavored products in the past 30 days, and almost 40 percent of Minnesota high-school students have tried e-cigarettes, which come in candy and other kid-friendly flavors.
Flavored products mask the harshness of tobacco, but are just as addictive and dangerous as other products. Nicotine damages the developing adolescent brain whether it’s delivered in a cigarette, cigarillo, e-cigarette or other tobacco product. In a recent health advisory, the Minnesota Department of Health called youth nicotine addiction a major health concern because it harms the adolescent brain and primes youth for addiction to cigarettes and other substances.
The Minnesota Legislature should take additional steps to reverse the alarming trend of youth tobacco use, such as increasing the tobacco age and restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide. Since nearly all addicted tobacco users started before they turn 21, raising the tobacco sale age to 21 would curb addiction and keep tobacco products out of schools. Restricting the sale of kid-friendly flavored tobacco products to adult-only stores and including e-cigarettes in smoke-free air laws would also help curb the threat of youth addiction.
Finally, Minnesota should invest in robust tobacco cessation and prevention efforts that stop smoking before it starts. In 2017, Minnesota collected over $840 million in tobacco taxes and ongoing tobacco settlement payments. Less than 1 percent of these funds was spent on tobacco prevention, and none was dedicated to quit-smoking services.