FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 24, 2020
CONTACT: John Schachter, 202-271-8698

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The California Assembly today delivered a resounding victory for kids and public health over the tobacco industry by voting, 50-0, to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes. California lawmakers deserve enormous credit for standing up to a multimillion-dollar barrage of lies from the tobacco industry and taking historic action to end the industry’s predatory targeting of kids, Black Americans and other vulnerable groups with flavored tobacco products.

This bold action, in a state home to more than 10% of the U.S. population, cracks down on the products that have long been the tobacco industry’s most powerful weapons in targeting and hooking kids and the Black community. In California, more than 85% of youth who use e-cigarettes use flavored products, and more than 85% of youth who use little cigars use flavored cigars. In addition, more than half of U.S. youth smokers – including seven out of ten Black youth smokers – smoke menthol cigarettes, as do 85% of all Black smokers. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes is not just a health issue but a social justice issue as well. And after decades of ruthlessly marketing menthol cigarettes with devastating consequences, the tobacco industry is now doing it with flavored e-cigarettes.

The Senate, which overwhelmingly passed similar legislation in June, is expected to approve this version soon. Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed support for ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, and we urge him to promptly sign this bill into law.

We applaud and thank the California lawmakers who have led the effort to pass this legislation and fought courageously and tirelessly to protect the state’s kids and health from the tobacco industry. They include lead Senate sponsor Jerry Hill, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assembly Health Committee Chair Jim Wood and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.

This legislation is critical to reverse the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavors to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction. It comes at a critical time with growing concerns among health experts that smoking and vaping can worsen the effects of COVID-19. It would make California the second state in the nation (after Massachusetts) to prohibit the sale of both flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes. With this legislation, the nation’s largest state is continuing its pioneering leadership in the fight against tobacco use – the No. 1 cause of preventable death – and setting a terrific example for other states and the entire country to follow.

Ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes is a necessary step to reverse skyrocketing youth use of e-cigarettes and prevent e-cigarettes from addicting a new generation. Just last week, the CDC released its 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, which were a powerful reminder of the severity of the youth e-cigarette epidemic. The YRBS found that 32.7% of U.S. high school students were current e-cigarette users in 2019, up from 13.2% in 2017 and that a large percentage of those youth are heavily addicted. The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes have fueled this epidemic – 97% of youth e-cigarette users report using a flavored product in the past month, and 70% cite flavors as the reason for their use.

Furthermore, menthol masks the harshness of smoking and makes cigarettes more addictive, making it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. As a result, Black Americans quit smoking at lower rates and die at higher rates than other groups from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death for African Americans. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes will have enormous public health benefits, especially among African Americans. It will reduce the number of young people who start smoking, help more smokers quit, save lives and reduce tobacco-related health disparities.

As Congressmember Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, so aptly wrote in The Sacramento Bee recently: “As we continue to push to protect Black lives, we must put an end to one of the most pernicious destroyers of Black health and lives: deadly menthol cigarettes and the tobacco industry’s decades-long targeted marketing to our kids and communities. Big Tobacco’s greedy and ruthless strategy has worked all too well. … The results have been devastating. The data doesn’t lie. Black Americans die from heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and other tobacco-related diseases at rates far higher than others. Roughly 45,000 Black men and women are dying at the hands of Big Tobacco every single year.”

It is important to note that the California law is carefully written to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and penalizes retailers who sell flavored products. It does not make it illegal for someone to purchase, possess or use flavored products.