The Coalition for Tobacco Free Vermont, along with health experts, members of the House and Senate Social Equity Caucuses, the Center for Black Health and Equity, and Vermont youth urged the Vermont Legislature to pass S.24, legislation to eliminate the sale of all flavored tobacco products.
“It’s vital that Vermont lawmakers stand up to Big Tobacco and put the health of Vermont youth above all else,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, the sponsor of the legislation. “All flavored tobacco products are exceedingly enticing and dangerous to kids. Leaving them on the market isn’t an option. And menthol must be part of the equation. Leaving out particular communities where use is high because of aggressive marketing by the industry of menthol, should not fly in Vermont.”
Calling it an urgent matter, the coalition stressed that it is not just a matter of public health, but also of health equity. They cited that candy, fruit and menthol-flavored tobacco products have made the tobacco industry billions by targeting youth, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and LGBTQ populations in order to create new generations of Vermonters that are addicted to nicotine.
“Mentholated tobacco products have burdened people of color for far too long. It’s time we put a stop to this brazen assault on our communities,” said Delmonte Jefferson, Executive Director, Center for Black Health and Equity. Ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Vermont, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, will be an important step towards health equity and protecting all Vermonters from the unrelenting efforts of the tobacco industry to hook them to a deadly addiction.
“This is affecting real lives and families in Vermont and exacerbating the effects of the pandemic. Flavored tobacco is particularly marketed to low-income and BIPOC Vermonters, and I heard firsthand from the family members of those addicted to flavored tobacco products that they need help stopping this trend. I am proud to support this legislation,” said Senator Kesha Ram, D-Chittenden, Chair of the Senate Social Equity Caucus.
“Including menthol will be a vital part of eliminating the lure of tobacco to youth while helping to ensure health and racial equity,” said Tina Zuk, of the American Heart Association. “Menthol is clearly a huge reason behind youth initiation with tobacco products because of its cooling effect and cough suppressant which makes it very attractive to youth both in e-cigarettes and tobacco.”
According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school e-cigarette users who reported using mint and menthol, increased from 42.3% in 2017 to 63.9% in 2019. “We all know that sweet, candy-like flavored tobacco products increase the appeal to young, inexperienced smokers, with the data showing the highest use of menthol and other flavored tobacco products is amongst 12- to 17-year-olds. Studies show that the reward centers of the young brain are particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and those who are exposed to nicotine at a young age are more likely to become adult smokers,” said L.E. Faricy, M.D., Pediatric Pulmonologist at UVMMC, representing the Vermont Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter.
Several studies show use of menthol cigarettes is especially high among African Americans. And data from Truth Initiative’s Young Adult Cohort Study, a national study of 18-34 year-olds, shows the majority of new young adult smokers started with menthol cigarettes and initiation with menthol cigarettes was vastly higher among black smokers (93.1%) compared to white smokers (approximately 43%).
“Eliminating some flavors will not protect our youth, but eliminating all flavors will,” said Zoey Pickel, 17-year-old Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids youth advocate from Washington County. “Youth are getting hooked on these flavored products every day and we know that youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use combustible cigarettes later in their lives. We need to protect youth from these addictive and toxic chemicals now, before it’s too late. We deserve more than a lifetime of addiction.”
Tobacco use in Vermont costs $348 million in health care costs and more than $232 million in lost productivity every year. “We know that by reducing the number of people smoking we will also reduce health care costs for our state. Currently, Vermonters spend millions of dollars on direct medical costs for tobacco related illnesses; whether it is through increased health care premiums or tax dollars. There is simply more work to be done if we want to prevent future generations from becoming addicted to these dangerous products,” said Representative Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, Member of the House Human Services Committee.
Massachusetts and California have passed legislation to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol combustibles. S.24 has been introduced in Vermont to do the same and is currently before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.