The Coalition for Tobacco-Free Vermont and other advocacy groups want the Vermont Legislature to pass S24, legislation to eliminate the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, supporters said yesterday at the State House.
The sales ban would apply to adults as well as children. According to Statista.com, menthol cigarettes comprise about a third of all U.S. cigarette sales. Other sources say menthol cigarettes account for 10% of the worldwide market. Flavored tobacco products are targeted towards youth and minorities, supporters of S24 say. Menthol is also extremely popular among young consumers of e-cigarettes.
“It’s vital that Vermont lawmakers stand up to Big Tobacco and put the health of Vermont youth above all else,” said Senate Health & Welfare Chair Ginny Lyons, the sponsor of the legislation. “All flavored tobacco products are exceedingly enticing and dangerous to kids. Leaving them on the market isn’t an option. And menthol must be part of the equation. Leaving out particular communities where use is high because of aggressive marketing by the industry of menthol, should not fly in Vermont.”
Calling it an urgent matter, the coalition stressed that it is not just a matter of public health, but also of health equity. They cited that candy, fruit, and menthol-flavored tobacco products have made the tobacco industry billions by targeting youth, Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and LGBTQ populations in order to create new generations of Vermonters that are addicted to nicotine.
“Mentholated tobacco products have burdened people of color for far too long. It’s time we put a stop to this brazen assault on our communities,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health and Equity. Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Vermont, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, will be an important step towards health equity and protecting all Vermonters from the unrelenting efforts of the tobacco industry to hook them to a deadly addiction.
“Including menthol will be a vital part of eliminating the lure of tobacco to youth while helping to ensure health and racial equity,” 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 and cough suppressant which makes it very attractive to youth both in e-cigarettes and tobacco.”
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 all know that sweet, candy-like flavored tobacco products increase the appeal to young, inexperienced smokers, with the data showing the highest use of menthol and other flavored tobacco products is amongst 12-17 yr olds. Studies show that the reward centers of the young brain are particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and those who are exposed to nicotine at a young age are more likely to become adult smokers,” said L.E. Faricy, M.D., Pediatric Pulmonologist at UVMMC, representing the Vermont Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter.
Several studies show the use of menthol cigarettes is especially high among African Americans.
And 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%).
“Eliminating some flavors will not protect our youth, but eliminating all flavors will,” said Zoey Pickel, 17-year-old Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids youth advocate from Washington County. “Youth are getting hooked on these flavored products every day and we know that youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use combustible cigarettes later in their lives. We need to protect youth from these addictive and toxic chemicals now before it’s too late. We deserve more than a lifetime of addiction.”
Tobacco use in Vermont costs $348 million in health care costs and more than $232 million in lost productivity every year. “We know that by reducing the number of people smoking we will also reduce health care costs for our state. Currently, Vermonters spend millions of dollars on direct medical costs for tobacco-related illnesses; whether it is through increased health care premiums or tax dollars. There is simply more work to be done if we want to prevent future generations from becoming addicted to these dangerous products,” said Representative Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, member of the House Human Services Committee.
Massachusetts and California have passed legislation to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol combustibles. S.24 has been introduced in Vermont to do the same and is currently before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
The call for a Vermont flavored tobacco product ban came on the day popular radio host Rush Limbaugh, 70, died of lung cancer, the Coalition noted. Limbaugh was an avid cigar smoker, it said.
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