As a lawmaker, I hear every day from the people in my community about the issues that concern them. One constant issue is the continued struggle we face combating youth tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. I am well aware of the fact that Big Tobacco hasn’t given up trying to hook new generations of addicted users. In fact, they continue to target our youth with brightly packaged, sweet and candy-flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Tuesday will mark a huge turning point in this fight; I am proud to have sponsored a bill that increases the age of sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Maryland from 18 to 21. Six months ago, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law, and next week it goes into effect. Knowing that 95% of smokers started before the age of 21, this promises to have a far-reaching impact on the health of the next generation of Maryland children. I am thrilled we have taken this step forward. However, the fight against youth tobacco use is not over, and we will only win the war against Big Tobacco and the e-cigarette industry with a continued, comprehensive public policy approach.
There are 92,000 children now under the age of 18 in Maryland who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking, and they are being bombarded on a daily basis with millions of dollars in tobacco industry marketing tempting them with flavored e-cigarettes and various tobacco products. That’s why I have joined with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and a broad coalition of public health groups to introduce a bill in the 2020 legislative session that will ban the sale in Maryland of all flavored tobacco products, including, but not limited to, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
The fact is flavors like menthol and mint — and bubble gum, watermelon and cotton candy — make it easier for kids to start using tobacco products because they mask the bad taste of tobacco. Menthol has the additional quality of soothing the irritation of combustible cigarettes, which is why so many young people who start smoking use menthol cigarettes. According to a report from the CDC and FDA, almost a third of the middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes in 2016 said the availability of flavors was a main reason they used these products.
In addition to youth, African Americans have been heavily targeted with menthol cigarette marketing. Quitting menthol cigarettes is particularly difficult, so those who initiate with menthol are more likely to become addicted and less likely to quit. Leaving menthol-flavored products in our community is a matter of social justice and leaves those already most impacted by health disparities vulnerable to the aggressive marketing of the tobacco industry.
It’s critical that we end this trend before we lose another generation of healthy kids to the tobacco industry’s targeting. I look forward to joining my colleagues in the state legislature to use Maryland’s new tobacco sales age as a starting point and to continue investing in proven comprehensive policy solutions to combat the youth smoking and e-cigarette epidemic in this state.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org) represents District 25 in Prince George’s County and chairs the House Economic Matters Committee.