Public health advocates and students gathered at the State House to urge lawmakers to support legislation that would end the sale of all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products, including menthol products. Calling it an urgent matter, the advocates and students stressed that it is not just a matter of public health, but also health equity since Big Tobacco targets minority populations and youth in particular. Without passage of this legislation, Vermont will raise another generation of smokers.
According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school e-cigarette users who reported using mint and menthol, increased from 42.3% in 2017 to 63.9% in 2019.
“We’re happy that lawmakers are considering taking action to eliminate the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products but it’s critical they include menthol,” said Tina Zuk, of the American Heart Association. “Menthol is clearly a huge reason behind youth initiation with tobacco products because of its cooling effect in the throat and cough suppressant with which makes it very attractive to youth both in e-cigarettes and tobacco.”
Advocates and health experts pointed out a discriminatory aspect of the marketing of menthol tobacco products. Several studies show use of menthol cigarettes is especially high among African Americans. Data from Truth Initiative’s Young Adult Cohort Study, a national study of 18-34 year olds, shows the majority of new young adult smokers started with menthol cigarettes and initiation with menthol cigarettes was vastly higher among black smokers (93.1%) compared to white smokers (approximately 43%).
“These striking statistics arise from the predatory marketing of these products to the black community where there are more advertisements, more lucrative promotions and cheaper prices for menthol cigarettes compared to other communities,” said Phil Gardiner with The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “This has led to African Americans disproportionately dying from heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes and other tobacco related diseases.”
“Flavored tobacco is used to target my friends, family, and peers, said 14-year-old student, Amina Ibrahim. “People are not talking enough about the role flavored tobacco, especially menthol, plays in nicotine addiction and people need to know the problems it causes.”
“I am a black Muslim woman. I face enough racism, sexism, and religious prejudices in my life,” said 17-year old student, Kaltuma Ibrahim. “I see what Big Tobacco is doing and I’m not falling for it.”
Massachusetts has already passed legislation to enact such restrictions. Late last year, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill that immediately prohibited the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and the restrictions will be expanded to all flavored tobacco products by next summer.