Stay strong, Missoula City Council members. Despite attacks from Big Tobacco, Americans for Prosperity and tobacco retailers that the industry pays to display its products, you will be doing the right thing by restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products to protect Missoula kids.
Please don’t exclude flavors or particular products as a compromise to an industry that manufactures a product that, if used as intended, kills people.
Menthol cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease. So do flavored cigarillos and smokeless tobacco. And kids use them, just as they do flavored e-cigarettes.
Make no mistake, the tobacco industry uses flavored products of all types to hook kids on tobacco. It’s part of a “graduation” strategy that stretches back decades, as is revealed in internal industry documents that are now on the public record.
“New users of smokeless tobacco are most likely to begin with products that are milder tasting, more flavored, and/or easier to control in the mouth. After a period of time, there’s a natural progression of product switching to brands that are more full-bodied, less flavored and/or have more concentrated ‘tobacco taste’ than the entry brand,” reads a U.S. Smokeless Tobacco report.
“Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline,” reads a 1984 R.J. Reynolds document.
“Cherry Skoal is for someone who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I’m saying,” said a U.S. Tobacco sales representative.
All of this shows that e-cigarettes are just the newest addition to an arsenal of tobacco products that the industry uses to addict kids. Exempting certain products or flavors allows the industry to continue targeting kids.
Menthol cigarettes, for example, are popular among teens because they are milder on the airways, which allows users to inhale more deeply and allow toxins and nicotine into their lungs. In other words, it “helps the poison go down easier.” Ads and price discounts for these products also disproportionately target people of color, people with low incomes, the LGBTQ community and women.
Most kids say flavors are the primary reason why they try and use tobacco. Most also say that they would quit using tobacco if flavors weren’t available. But if only some flavored products are eliminated, kids will still have plenty to choose from. In Montana, 1 in 10 kids smoke cigars, and nationally 74% of kids who smoke cigars do so because they come in flavors that they like. Also in Montana, 10% of male youths use smokeless tobacco. Mint and menthol products make up 75% of all smokeless tobacco sales.
It’s also worth noting that when the Tobacco Control Act banned flavored conventional cigarettes except for menthol in 2009, youth use of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars increased.
Leaving some flavored products unrestricted sends the message that we are comfortable with the tobacco industry continuing to target kids with these remaining flavored products, plus whatever new products the industry comes up with in the future.
The best, and only, way to protect kids is to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Missoula. Put simply “flavors hook kids.” It is time to stop Big Tobacco from preying on Missoula’s kids.
Stand up for our kids and not Big Tobacco, City Council members. Missoula parents and future generations who grow up free of addiction and disease will thank you.
This opinion is signed by Dr. Pamela Cutler, president, Montana Medical Association and Western Montana Clinic; D’Shane Barnett, executive director, All Nations Health Center; Lauren Wilson, medical doctor; Dr. Phillip Gardiner, co-chair, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council; Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, professor of pediatrics, Stanford University; Rev. John Lund, ELCA; Rev. Laura Folkwein, UCC Missoula; Rev. Dr. Jennifer Yocum, UCC Missoula.
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