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Conn. Lawmakers To Target Flavored Tobacco Products In Legislative Session

Sodanie Chea
Creative Commons

State lawmakers want to ban all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products for good this legislative session to cut off their popularity with kids and teens.

Anti-smoking and public health advocates hope the bill will ultimately reduce vaping and tobacco addiction among youth, as well as address some racial health disparities. 

“There’s really no reason to have most of these flavors,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, bill co-sponsor and co-chair of the state’s public health committee. “They really are only intended to tempt and entice young people or even adults down a path in which there is almost certainly to be addiction.”

Smoking cigarettes remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Overall smoking rates have steadily declined in the last decade, but national reports show that vaping and e-cigarette use by middle school- and high school-aged kids has reached crisis levels.

The 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that about 3.6 million young people use e-cigarettes, and 8 out of 10 preferred flavored products.

Kevin O’Flaherty, regional director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said there’s a long history of tobacco companies marketing their flavored products to younger audiences.

“Flavors hook kids by improving the taste and reducing the harshness of tobacco products, making them appealing and easier for [beginners] to try the product and ultimately become addicted,” he said.

O’Flaherty said this is especially true for menthol, which cools and numbs the throat as it eases the harshness of the smoke.

Historically, the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed products like menthol cigarettes to African Americans, especially those in urban communities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal data show that African Americans are more likely to die from smoking-related disease than whites.

“Tobacco companies deliberately and successfully used free samples, predatory marketing and cheaper prices in our communities, especially my community, to hook generation after generation of young Black Americans,” said Nichola Hall, second vice president of the Greater Bridgeport chapter of the NAACP.

Hall said passing a law that takes a more comprehensive approach in reducing accessibility and the promotion of flavored products could directly benefit Black and brown communities.

“I can tell you that Black lives don’t matter to the tobacco companies except when it comes to their profits,” she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last January announced it would more strictly enforce a policy to remove from the market certain flavored e-cigarette products that appealed to kids, like ones that came in fruit, candy and mint flavors.

However, anti-smoking advocates said that left open loopholes, including the continued manufacturing and sale of menthol products.

Connecticut neighbors Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York all prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Massachusetts has a broader ban on all flavored tobacco products, which can include hookah, cigars and chewing tobacco, among others.

“I really don’t see why there should be any opposition to this,” said Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, bill co-sponsor and public health committee co-chair. “It’s something that’s long overdue.”

Connecticut raised the minimum age for sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 in the 2019 legislative session, shortly before the federal government did the same on a nationwide level.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the state Department of Public Health supported banning flavored vape products ahead of last year’s legislative session, which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daugherty Abrams said she hopes there will be similar support from state officials with the new bill, which she and other legislators plan to formally raise for consideration during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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