The Forgotten Epidemic: Flavored Tobacco Usage Among Youth And Why It Matters

Let me take you on a walk down memory lane. The year was 2019 and we were battling one of many public health epidemics: e-cigarette use and vaping, particularly among youth. Remember hearing about all of the rising cases in youth and all of the deaths occurring from usage. We called this EVALI or E-cigarette, Vaping Associated Lung Injury. Little did we know that a pandemic would ensue (COVID-19). Companies like JUUL were in the hot seat in 2019 for allegedly advertising tobacco products to minors, they were even brought to Congress to testify. They of course denied such claims.  

Anyone remember ads like these from JUUL? Who does it look like they’re advertising to?

As you may know, the use of e-cigarettes has been on the rise for the past few years and has been very popular among youth aged 18-24. According to California Dept of Public Health (CDPH), most youth are introduced to tobacco via a flavored product. Think- Swishers, hookah, JUULs. Youth are also more likely to purchase an e-cigarette device from a retail store. Unfortunately there have been about 60 vaping related deaths occur in the United States as of January 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone should stop vaping, especially since there is little research about the long term health effects associated with using e-juices and e-cigarette devices


Why Are Flavored Tobacco Products So Bad?

1. Flavored tobacco products entice children. According to multiple studies, over 70% of youth are introduced to a tobacco by using a flavored tobacco product. Most of these same youth would not have otherwise become smokers or tobacco users. It has been proven that nicotine is brain poison, and can have long lasting harmful consequences for youth, whose brains are still developing until age 25. 
The e-cigarette aerosol that users breathe from the vaping device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:
    • Nicotine
    • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
    • Flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease and “popcorn lung”
    • Volatile organic compounds
    • Cancer-causing chemicals
    • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
2. Flavored Tobacco also directly harms underserved communities. For decades, the tobacco industry has marketed their products towards certain groups of people.

For example, menthol flavored cigarettes were (and still are) highly advertised in low income and predominantly African American communities. Most African Americans now prefer mentholated cigarettes for this reason.

Mentholated cigarettes cause more harm to the lungs because sin
ce the taste of the cigarettes is masked by the menthol, the user can inhale more deeply, allowing more toxins to enter the lungs. Menthol is also more addicting and harder to quit than un-mentholated combustible cigarettes.
This is a social (in) justice issue as well as a public health issue. Many cities, counties and states have already moved forward with banning the sale of flavored tobacco products but we still have work to do. We must educate and advocate for political officials to stop allowing retailers to sell tobacco near schools or other areas where there is easy access to youth. We must also advocate against predatory marketing to underserved communities. 

Need help quitting vaping or smoking? Call 1-800- NoButts

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