DC Council Takes Final Action to End… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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DC Council Takes Final Action to End Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products; Historic Move Will Advance Health Equity and Save Lives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 29, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With a final vote today to end the sale of flavored tobacco products – including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars – the DC Council has taken truly historic action to protect kids from tobacco addiction, advance health equity and save lives, especially among its Black residents. The Council’s action is the right move to stop the tobacco industry from addicting a new generation of kids and reversing the enormous progress we have made in reducing youth tobacco use.

We strongly applaud Council Members Mary Cheh, Vincent Gray and Charles Allen for their leadership in protecting the health of DC’s kids and promoting health equity. The Council’s action will crack down on the tobacco industry’s most pernicious tactic for luring and addicting kids – the marketing of flavored products. And it will help end the industry’s predatory targeting of Black communities with menthol cigarettes – a form of institutional racism that has taken a devastating toll on Black lives and health, is a major cause of health disparities, and must be stopped once and for all. The addition of menthol and other flavored tobacco products to the bill came in response to robust public input throughout the process.

Importantly, the bill will be enforced in ways that protect against any potential law enforcement abuse. DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs – not the police – will enforce the new law, and enforcement will only be on retailers, not individual consumers. The Council adopted an amendment today to make this explicitly and abundantly clear.

We remain disappointed that the Council exempted certain hookah bars. According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 600,000 youth have used hookah in the past month. Like other tobacco products, there is strong evidence that flavored hookah appeals to youth and may play an important role in initiation of hookah use. According to the CDC, using a hookah to smoke tobacco poses serious health risks to smokers and others exposed to the smoke from the hookah. To best protect public health, we strongly support comprehensive legislation that ends the sale of all flavored tobacco products in all locations.

Flavored products have fueled the current epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, with 13% of DC high school students currently using e-cigarettes. Nationally, 3.6 million kids use e-cigarettes, with a growing percentage of them using e-cigarettes frequently or daily – a sure sign of addiction. We know that 83% of youth e-cigarette users use flavored products.

Flavored products have also long been a favorite tobacco industry strategy for targeting kids, Black Americans, the LGBTQ community and other communities. Half of all kids who ever try smoking start with menthol cigarettes. The evidence shows that menthol makes it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. Because of the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing, 85% of Black smokers now smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to less than 10% in the 1950s. Menthol cigarettes are a major reason why tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans – claiming 45,000 Black lives every year – and why Black Americans have a harder time quitting smoking and are more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

In addition, cheap, flavored cigars – sold in hundreds of flavors like banana smash, cherry dynamite and chocolate – have flooded the market in recent years and fueled the popularity of these products with kids. According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, cigars are now the most popular tobacco product among Black high school students and the second most popular tobacco product, after e-cigarettes, among all high school students.