Opinion: Ending the sale of addictive flavored tobacco in San Diego is within reach

Teenage boy smoking an electronic cigarette
A teenager secretly smoking an electronic cigarette. Photo via Pixabay

An end to the sale of flavored tobacco in the city of San Diego is within reach, much to the relief of school districts, youth-serving organizations, medical professionals and parents.

The SAAFE Act, introduced by council member Marni von Wilpert, will end the sale of flavored vapes, flavored cigarillos and menthol cigarettes aimed at young people if passed. Hookah, premium flavored cigars, flavored leaf tobacco and unflavored tobacco products will remain on store shelves.

The San Diego City Council will pass the ordinance on Monday, April 25, and observers anticipate an active meeting.

The local tobacco industry’s lobbying arm, the Neighborhood Market Association, spoke out against the order because sweet, fruity and minty flavors are trying to appeal to the next generation of tobacco users. They previously cited research from a San Francisco study, incorrectly indicating that the removal of flavored vapes from retail is causing young people to use cigarettes instead.

Jonathan Winickoff, director of pediatric research at the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital Tobacco Research and Treatment Center, reviewed the study and disagreed. He notes that the study was completed before enforcement of San Francisco’s flavored tobacco ban had taken full effect — only 17% of retailers were compliant at the time of the study — thus invalidating the analysis. .

Winickoff and colleagues cite data from Oakland that found regular cigarette smoking declined after restrictions on flavored tobacco and, more importantly, point to research showing that total tobacco use by youth aged 18 at 24 fell nearly 18% after flavored tobacco sales in San Francisco. limitations.

After looking at what drives higher vaping rates among young people, it makes sense to end the sale of flavored tobacco. Consider the following facts:

  1. The flavors hook the children. Young people are naturally drawn to sweet, fruity and minty flavors, and when an addictive substance like nicotine is masked by passion fruit or sour apple, it is easier for them to feel comfortable for experiment.
  2. The amount of nicotine in each flavored vaping device is equivalent to one to 10 packs of cigarettes. This is a very concentrated amount of nicotine in each device, and some teens vape an entire e-cigarette every day, effectively consuming the same amount of nicotine in 20-200 cigarettes.
  3. The adolescent brain is more easily addicted than the adult brain because it is still developing.

These points underscore why surveys show that four in 10 high school students in the San Diego Unified School District have vaped.

But when policymakers stand with educators and enact policies that protect students’ mental and physical health, our young people have a better chance of resisting the lure of flavored tobacco. Administrators from San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union, and the San Diego County Board of Education all passed resolutions in support of the SAAFE Act, calling on San Diego and Chula Vista City Council members to fight the vaping epidemic that is sweeping school campuses by ending the sale. flavored tobacco products.

These elected school board members understand a simple yet powerful truth based on data from the 110 California municipalities with flavored tobacco bans on the books: Removing tobacco hotspots lowers rates of youth smoking.

True to form, the Neighborhood Market Association’s commentary makes a second misleading claim: When one city ended sales of flavored tobacco, neighboring cities saw sales of these products increase.

Before restricting tobacco purchases to customers over 21 became federal law, many municipalities adopted this policy as a local ordinance. Winickoff studied the effects of raising the smoking age to 21 in these cities and compared them to cities without an increased age requirement.

As the “Tobacco 21” policy gained national momentum, Big Tobacco lobbyists made the same argument the Neighborhood Market Association is making now: people will travel to other cities to buy tobacco. Research shows that this customer migration has not happened.

In fact, Winickoff and his colleagues found that the “Tobacco 21” policy resulted in a 47% reduction in high school tobacco use, with no indication that young people traveled to other cities to purchase the products.

Young people do not cross the cities to buy flavored tobacco. While neighboring towns may see a slight increase in sales, within the city limits of municipalities where flavored tobacco products are banned, youth consumption is declining.

This reality validates the rationale for the SAAFE Act to keep the addictive poison of flavored tobacco products out of our children’s lungs.

“It’s not rocket science; restricting sales of flavored tobacco is an effective strategy to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco products,” Winickoff said.

But expanding the policy goal beyond youth access shows why bans on flavored tobacco also protect adults. It is a fact that e-cigarette use causes inflammation in several organ systems of the body. Use also increases anxiety, impairs learning and memory, and causes severe lung damage and death in some cases.

The purpose of the SAAFE Act is to protect young people, communities of color, students, members of the LGBTQ+ community – in a nutshell, anyone who is targeted by Big Tobacco’s predatory marketing tactics.

The San Diego City Council has an opportunity to protect our youth and our communities from the toxic brew of nicotine-flavored products.

Big Tobacco and the Neighborhood Market Association may say otherwise, but history has shown what is true: public health improves when policies are adopted to reduce the harm caused by tobacco products.

Who wouldn’t stand with San Diegans to champion healthy and resilient communities? We will know when our elected municipal officials will vote for or against the SAAFE law.

Cynthia Knapp is program manager for the San Diego Smoke-Free Project, a program of SAY San Diego. Jim Crittenden is the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Prevention Coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education.

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