Flavored tobacco products serve as a gateway to broader tobacco use; industry targets young people, communities of color, and first-time users with flavored tobacco
WASHINGTON, D.C. — May 17, 2022 — As tobacco use remains a public health crisis — with more than 2 million young people reporting current e-cigarette use in 2021 — a new report by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids outlines how the tobacco industry uses flavored products to attract youth and first-time users and how city leaders can take action to end the sale of these harmful products, saving lives and protecting public health.
“We know, and the tobacco industry knows, that flavored products appeal to children and teens in ways that traditional tobacco products do not,” said Katrina Forrest, J.D., co-executive director of CityHealth. “Flavored products are the first step toward a dangerous and unhealthy tobacco addiction that can lead to serious chronic diseases and death. Cities can act today to remove flavored tobacco products from local stores and keep them out of the hands of residents.”
CityHealth works with cities to adopt a package of proven policies designed to benefit the health of residents. One of these policy interventions is Flavored Tobacco Restrictions, which prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes and vaping devices, and all other flavored tobacco products. The policy also prohibits penalties for youth purchase, use, and possession, and targets enforcement against the owner or business license holder, rather than store employees.
Internal tobacco industry documents show that tobacco companies have a long history of using flavors to reduce the harshness of their products to make them more appealing to new users, almost all of whom are under age 18. Research suggests that eight out of 10 young people who have ever used tobacco started with a flavored product. As the 2020 Surgeon General Report on Smoking Cessation succinctly stated, “The role of flavors in promoting initiation of tobacco product use among youth is well established.”
In addition to the harmful impact flavored tobacco products have had on youth tobacco use, flavored products — particularly menthol cigarettes — have contributed to health disparities in cities across the country. This is in large part due to targeted marketing from the industry.
Since the 1950s, the tobacco industry has targeted Black Americans with pervasive marketing of menthol cigarettes through sponsorship of community and music events, free sampling, magazine advertising, and retail promotions. In the 1950s, less than 10% of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes. Today, after decades of predatory tobacco industry targeting, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to just 29% of White smokers. Menthol cigarettes continue to be heavily advertised, widely available, and priced more cheaply in Black communities, making them especially appealing to price-sensitive young people.
“Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in America. Flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and flavored cigars, have long been a tobacco industry strategy for attracting young users and certain populations, particularly the Black community,” said Catherine D. Patterson, MPP, co-executive director of CityHealth. “Cities that prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products can help reduce the appeal of these products and help current users quit, which in turn can reduce medical costs and promote health equity.”
The good news is that local policy action can be taken to protect communities from these harmful products. City leaders can pass comprehensive flavor restrictions that protect their residents from all types of flavored tobacco products. To have the greatest impact, these policies must apply to all products, all retailers, and all flavors, including menthol.
“The benefits of these policies could not be clearer,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a co-author of the report. “Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products will prevent young people from using tobacco, lead more users to quit, improve health, save lives, enhance health equity, and reduce health care spending.”
Flavored Tobacco Restriction policies are one of 12 policies in CityHealth’s 2.0 package of policy solutions that the initiative will use to assess cities in 2022. Learn more about Flavored Tobacco Restrictions and download the report here: https://www.cityhealth.org/ending-flavored-tobacco/.
CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, works to advance a package of tried and tested policy solutions that ensure all people in our largest cities have access to healthy choices. Together with visionary city leaders, CityHealth helps cities adopt policies that can make their communities healthy and resolve critical health disparities — now and decades down the road. Learn more at cityhealth.org.
About the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is the leading advocacy organization working to reduce tobacco use and its deadly consequences in the United States and around the world. Through strategic communications and policy advocacy campaigns, Tobacco-Free Kids works to change public attitudes about tobacco and promote proven policies that are most effective at reducing tobacco use and save the most lives. Learn more at tobaccofreekids.org.