My involvement in the San Francisco campaign to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products (#YesOnE) has opened my eyes to what smoking looks like today for youth in the US. I was appalled by the amount of smoking that still occurs in middle schools and high schools today despite all the progress we have made to keep tobacco products out of the hands of kids in the last several decades. As I learned, however, most of this “smoking” occurs in the form of vaping rather than traditional cigarette smoking. Although 86% of middle and high school students believe that all tobacco products are dangerous, this has not prevented approximately 20% of them from trying cigarettes, and another 23% from trying e-cigarettes.
The rise of the so-called “healthier” alternative to cigarettes and the subsequent infiltration of flavored tobacco products into schools is an alarming trend. An industry that once seemed to promise the end of addiction and disease now promises to spread addiction and other adverse health effects to younger populations than ever before. It is incredibly disturbing to see my favorite candies and food products as a 10-year-old being repackaged as nicotine-packed vaping liquids and marketed to kids. Unfortunately, this marketing seems to be working: a commonly cited statistic in the San Francisco campaign is that 8 out of every 10 kids who use tobacco started with a flavored tobacco product.
Another particularly troubling point for me is that many people who would never pick up a cigarette think that vaping is perfectly harmless. My brother-in-law is one of these people. While we have done a great job of publicizing the negative health effects of tobacco, we haven’t done as well in educating the public about the adverse health consequences of nicotine even in the absence of tobacco. Nicotine not only damages the lungs by reducing their capacity to carry oxygen, but also increases the formation of plaque in arteries and is an important contributor to the biological pathways that promote cancer. These are just a few of the numerous negative health effects of nicotine use.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that did not smoke, so in many ways I was shielded from the allure of tobacco products. But as I have engaged in this new fight against the tobacco industry, I have had to ask myself: how would my resolve as a young boy or teenager to say “no” to tobacco have fared in this new aggressive marketing environment?
We must protect our kids from harm. That is why I am supporting the restriction on the sale of flavored tobacco products like the one's pictured below. If you would like to support the efforts of the Prop E campaign in San Francisco, please visit sfkidsvsbigtobacco.com.