Letter to the Editor: Teen flavored tobacco use is a dangerous, rising trend

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Smoking flavored tobacco products is harming Gloucester’s youth and becoming a rapidly growing trend. While 89 percent of Massachusetts teens do not smoke cigarettes, Big Tobacco companies have hooked a new generation of smokers through flavored tobacco products.

We, the Gloucester Youth Council, are a teen leadership group under the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative. From witnessing teens smoke flavored cigarillos in school bathrooms and hallways- even when a strict no tobacco policy is enforced- to being asked to smoke flavored electronic cigarettes because “everyone else is doing it,” we have seen firsthand how widespread flavored tobacco use has become among youth.

According to a 2015 survey we conducted in Gloucester High School, 68 percent of students reported that their first tobacco product was flavored.

60 percent of students who smoke flavored tobacco products said they would not use or were not sure if they would use tobacco products if they were not flavored.

43 percent of students who have ever used tobacco said they visit a convenience store every day or a few times per week compared to the 24 percent who have never used tobacco.

75 percent of students said that it was very easy or somewhat easy to get flavored tobacco products.

When asked what is one main reason students currently use flavored tobacco products, 38 percent- the highest response- was “I like the flavor.” The second highest response at 27 percent said it was because “my friends use them.”

This data does not include the rising use of new flavored tobacco products like JUULs, which look far from the traditional cigar, cigarette, or even e-cigarette parents are familiar with. Big Tobacco designs youth-oriented products like JUULs to look like pens or USB flash drives so that adults cannot recognize them as smoking devices.

Big Tobacco companies appeal to youth by making products sweet, cheap, and easy to get in order to create lifelong customers. By making more than 8,000 flavors- like grape, strawberry, and chocolate- pricing them at only a few dollars, and putting their colorful and appealing packages at a child’s eye level or next to candy, Big Tobacco is actively trying to widen its margins through today’s youth.

Our peers often tell us not to worry about these products, since “it is just water vapor.” But even when the packages say that there is 0 percent nicotine in the products, there is always some nicotine in them.

As high schoolers, we are concerned with how this growing usage rate will affect our generation. 90 percent of adult smokers started before they were 18, according to 2007 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health. We hope today’s youth will not experience the same problem, but flavored tobacco products make this possibility very likely to become a reality unless action is taken.

We encourage parents to talk to their children, and young people to look past these colorful marketing ploys and make healthy decisions.

It’s your choice, your future. Not Big Tobacco’s.

 

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