Published on May 30th, 2017 | by Deb Wolf0
Flavored Tobacco Products are Being Targeted to Youth
Current prEvents June 16, 2017 Times Argus
By Ginny Burley, Prevention Specialist, Central Vermont New Directions Coalition
One thing that tobacco companies do really well: they find ways to create new customers. As older smokers quit or die, Big Tobacco needs to attract “replacement smokers” to take up the slack; and to Big Tobacco, the younger the smoker the better, because younger smokers are more likely to become addicted – lifetime customers!
One way to appeal to younger potential smokers is through flavored tobacco products. The tobacco industry uses flavors to make e-cigarettes, little cigars, and chewing tobacco more appealing. Even though kids know that smoking cigarettes is harmful, many are trying other tobacco products like little cigars, chew, electronic cigarettes, hookahs, and vape pens. Why? Because they come in flavors like blueberry cheesecake, bubble gum, cotton candy, watermelon, chocolate mint and more – all very appealing to our Vermont youth.
According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS,) 34% of Washington County’s 12th grade students have tried a flavored tobacco product. This is higher than Vermont’s state average of 32% – and this is concerning! Flavored products are attractive to youth and youth report that their first experience with an e-cigarette, cigar/cigarillo/little cigar, or smokeless tobacco (chew) was using a flavored product. There are over 8,000 flavors and more being added each month. Some substances may be safe to eat but they are unregulated and become dangerous when heated and inhaled – including the second-hand vapor exhaled by the smoker. The tobacco industry knows that their flavors are enticing.
Both non-cigarette tobacco products and flavored tobacco products are incorrectly and dangerously believed by youth to be less harmful and less addictive. Not so. Nicotine is a highly addictive neurotoxin that affects the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that nicotine is extremely addictive and adversely affects brain development from the time a child is in utero into adolescence.
In Vermont, the tobacco industry spends an estimated $17.7 million per year to market its products – that’s approximately $16,992 per store! Most of the advertising happens at the store, or “point of sale.” Strategies include single item sales; power walls; discount coupons; product placement (flavored tobacco near candy, for example); pricing; and posters on store windows and exteriors. Why this is a problem: the more often youth are exposed to flavored tobacco products and advertising, the more likely they are to start using tobacco.
Vermont is combatting this phenomenon in several ways. The Vermont Agency of Education sponsors the youth anti-tobacco group OVX (Our Voices Exposed), which has members at many high schools, including Spaulding and Harwood. OVX has made flavored tobacco its focus this year. Spaulding students Jada MacDonald and Madison Henderson worked with their OVX leader and school SAP Dawn Poitras to inform legislators, community members, and the Barre City Council about the harms of flavored tobacco. They were joined by Harwood students and OVX groups from all over the state for a rally and march to the Statehouse in early February. The Vermont Department of Health has two related projects: Counter Tools has audited stores to gather data in all licensed tobacco outlets. The most recent survey data shows that 71% of the stores in Washington County sell flavored little cigars and cigarillos. Unlike cigarettes, these products can be purchased individually – making them cheaper for youth to buy. 44% of the stores charge less than $1 for these products (compared to 36% statewide.) A new audit will be conducted this fall to obtain updated information. Counter Tools allows us to pinpoint issues of outlet density (how many stores are in a given area and how many are close to schools and playgrounds) as well as advertising, discounting, point of sale displays, and enforcement. Counter Balance is an educational campaign which “increases understanding of how flavors work to attract youth and contribute to a low perception of danger/harm. It aims to deepen public demand for prohibiting flavored tobacco products in order to protect youth.” The youth voice is an important one in delivering this message. Montpelier High School students used World No Tobacco Day on May 31st as an opportunity to engage peers about countering the advertising of big tobacco. They collected Concern Cards with comments written by fellow students and teachers. These will be added to those collected statewide.
One thousand Vermonters die each year from tobacco related illnesses. Preventing youth from starting to smoke and helping kids understand the dangers of flavors is an important role for parents, teachers, doctors, policy makers, community coalitions and youth.
Keep our kids safe. Make sure your family knows that flavors are toxic and tobacco products are harmful. Visit counterbalancevt.com and help end tobacco’s influence on Vermont’s youth.
Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
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