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Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Honors U.S. Rep. Karen Bass for Her Leadership in Fighting Menthol Cigarettes, Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic

September 29, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids tonight will present U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of California with its highest honor, the Champion Award, given to the individual who has had the greatest impact in the last year in the battle to reduce tobacco use and its devastating consequences. Rep. Bass is being recognized for her exemplary leadership and commitment in the fight against tobacco, especially working to end the industry’s decades-long, predatory targeting of kids and the Black community with menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.

Rep. Bass will be honored at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ annual awards celebration, which is being held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tobacco-Free Kids will also honor its Youth Advocates of the Year, young leaders in the fight against tobacco use. The event will be livestreamed at at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

Rep. Bass has worked successfully to build support for prohibiting menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. She was a powerful advocate for the Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act, legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2020 that, among other things, would prohibit all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

She was a critical leader in pushing the FDA to eliminate menthol cigarettes, resulting in the FDA’s April 2021 announcement that it will initiate rulemaking to prohibit menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. She has also repeatedly urged FDA to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes, including menthol e-cigarettes. And she has been a strong and influential supporter of successful legislation at the state and local levels in California to end the sale of flavored tobacco products.

“Rep. Bass has been instrumental in advancing efforts to eliminate flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and stop the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to our kids and to the Black community. We are thrilled to honor her for her courage and leadership in taking on the tobacco industry – and for all she has done to protect kids, save lives and advance health equity,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Thank you to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for this award. I’m incredibly proud of my work fighting against the flavored tobacco products – especially menthol cigarettes – that are addicting a new generation,” Rep. Bass said. “Our kids deserve leaders who are going to fight to protect them and build on the decades of progress we’ve already made in combating tobacco use. Together, we will continue to fight to protect the health and safety of all of Californians and Americans.”

Flavored products have 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, flavors have driven the ongoing epidemic of youth e-cigarette use. According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 3.6 million middle and high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes, including one in five high school students. 83% of them use flavored products.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people and costing the nation over $225 billion in health care bills each year. 

Rep. Bass is serving her sixth term representing California’s 37th Congressional District. Prior to her election to Congress, Rep. Bass served in the California State Assembly, where she made health equity a priority and where, in 2008, she made history by becoming the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve as Speaker of any state legislature.

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, we promote the adoption of proven solutions that are most effective at reducing tobacco use and save the most lives. For more information on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, visit