GUEST COLUMN: The Flavor “Trick or Treat” – an early addiction
Thanks to the creative marketing and perception of flavored tobacco, tobacco companies are trying to entice our kids into the dangerous game of addiction. Andlawmakers, instead of voting for the health and wellbeing of our children and community, continue to be persuaded by convenience store owners. I understand as a parent myself, we want to believe our kids will not try to smoke, but the reality is, and I can say this from experience, your child is more than likely to be a statistic because of peer pressure or curiosity.
My work lately includes participating in various health fairs and Parkview’s Focus on Health for school-age kids. I have discovered adults do not pay enough attention to what is behind the counter at convenience stores; youth know a lot more than their parents are aware of. Have you noticed an increase in flavored tobacco products the last few years? They were not created and produced for adults, but for youth. Next time you stop in a gas station, grocery store or any other store that sells tobacco, check out all the different flavors and how they are positioned on the shelves. Be an informed parent by identifying the placement of what your own child sees in your community.
While the FDA has banned the sale of flavored cigarettes, they have not banned flavored cigars. As a result, tobacco companies have changed up their flavored cigarette products so they can be classified as cigars.
Currently, cigars are available in multiple flavors that appeal to youth, such as menthol, candy or fruit flavors. They are often marketed with names that appeal to young people such as “DA Bomb Blueberry” or “SwagBerry.”
Our intuition should alert us that these flavor options are aimed at youth, and national studies demonstrate youth and young adult tobacco users are more likely to use flavored products than adults, and younger adults are more likely to use flavored tobacco products than older adults.
Credible research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have given evidence of youth-targeted products and their smoking behavior. According to Campaign on Tobacco Free Kids article (https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/microsites/flavortrap/#findings), “A 2014 study identified more than 7,700 unique e-cigarette flavors, with an average of more than 240 new flavors being added per month. Sales of flavored cigars have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008, and flavored cigars made up more than half (52.1 percent) of the U.S. cigar market in 2015, according to Nielsen convenience store market scanner data. Further, the number of unique cigar flavor names more than doubled from 2008 to 2015, from 108 to 250.”
While smoking has declined substantially among Indiana youth, thousands of Hoosier youth continue to smoke. Nearly 12 percent of high school students and 2 percent of middle school students report using Black & Milds, Swisher Sweets or Phillies Blunts, which are cigar brands that are commonly sold in flavored varieties. Nearly 45 percent of high school students and 37 percent of middle school students who currently use cigars report having tried flavored little cigars. (Tobacco Health Survey 2015)
To help reduce youth smoking it will require many efforts including: Reducing youth access to tobacco and exposure to tobacco marketing; promoting tobacco-free environments; providing evidence-based, tailored assistance for youth to quit smoking, such as the Indiana Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) and other resources; sustained investment in comprehensive tobacco control programs.
Make your voice heard. Convenience store owners and our legislators have a duty, and a responsibility to their community to stop promoting and giving in to buying these flavored tobacco products. As we approach the legislative session, many studies are coming out about the flavored tobacco used to target youth and minority population. Eventually they will need to address the problem to give our next generation a chance to live a healthier lifestyle, to breathe smoke free air, and have a better future. Get involved with the upcoming legislative session and contact your local legislators by voicing your concerns. As tobacco companies use their money and resources to start up another trend, it is our duty to our children to stop them.
Tammy Taylor is a parent, resident of Fort Wayne and works with Tobacco Free Allen County.