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Putting Profits Before Kids, R.J. Reynolds Spends Over $11.6 Million in Effort to Overturn San Francisco Ban on Flavored Tobacco Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 
May 30, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Showing how far they will go to preserve their ability to target kids, the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company is spending more than $11.6 million on a ballot campaign to overturn a San Francisco law that prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The huge sums Reynolds is spending in just one city is aimed at sustaining the pipeline of kids the tobacco industry needs to survive. Reynolds is going all-out to fight this law because they know that menthol and other flavors – including candy flavors – play a key role in attracting kids to start and continue using tobacco products. They fear that San Francisco’s law could spark a national trend and take away one of their main strategies for attracting kids.

On June 5, San Francisco voters should reject Reynolds’ deceptive and self-serving campaign and vote yes on Proposition E to uphold the city’s law. They should do so for the same reason Reynolds opposes the law: Because it will stop the tobacco industry from luring kids into addiction with menthol- and candy-flavored products.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in June 2017 to end the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, throughout the city. Reynolds subsequently launched a ballot initiative to overturn the law and has provided nearly all of the funding for the campaign to do so.

Tobacco companies have a long history of developing and marketing flavored tobacco products as “starter” products that attract kids. Flavors improve the taste and mask the harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing and easier for kids to try the product and ultimately become addicted.

As youth smoking rates have fallen, manufacturers have sought to entice kids with a new generation of candy-flavored tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes are sold in thousands of flavors, and flavored cigars make up more than half of the U.S. cigar market. These products come in flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy and banana smash that clearly appeal to kids, and they’re often colorfully packaged to look just like candy and other kid-friendly products.

In addition, tobacco companies continue to aggressively market menthol cigarettes to kids, African-Americans and other demographic groups. R.J. Reynolds makes Newport, the best-selling menthol cigarette brand and the second most popular cigarette brand among youth smokers.

The evidence is clear that flavors play an important role in youth initiation and continued use of tobacco products. A government study published in JAMA found that that 81 percent of kids who have ever tried tobacco started with a flavored product, and 80 percent of current youth tobacco users had used a flavored product in the past month.

Youth smokers are also more likely to use menthol cigarettes than any other age group. Over half (54 percent) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older. Menthol use is even higher among African-American youth: seven out of 10 African-American youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. The popularity of menthol cigarettes among African Americans and youth is a direct result of a decades-long marketing campaign by the tobacco industry. The industry’s targeting has had a destructive impact as African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at high rates and quit smoking at lower rates, and African-American men have high death rates from lung cancer. A comprehensive report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, issued in 2013, found that menthol cigarettes led to 1) increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults; 2) greater addiction; and 3) decreased success in quitting smoking.

San Francisco voters should stand up to the tobacco industry and vote to protect kids from flavored tobacco products.

For more information on the San Francisco campaign, please visit: sfkidsvsbigtobacco.com