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Coalition seeks ban on flavored tobacco products

LOS ANGELES — City and county officials have examined the idea of banning flavored tobacco products in recent months, and a coalition of health experts, educators and students gathered Aug. 14 to voice their support of such a prohibition.

The L.A. Families Fighting Flavored Tobacco coalition hosted a news conference in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration after they spoke at a county Health and Mental Health Services cluster meeting. Supporters held inflatable candy and signs to protest the ways in which flavored nicotine products are marketed to children.

“Products like e-cigarette flavors such as cotton candy, lemonade, bubble gum, they’re clearly marketed toward young people,” Annie Tegan of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said. “Menthol cigarettes would also be banned because they’re a flavored product.”

Tegan said there have been reports of children as young as 10 using the flavored tobacco products.

“Flavored tobacco products have been around a long time, and e-cigarette companies have taken a leaf out of big tobacco’s book, and now they’re marketing it to young people,” Tegan said.

She said one of the biggest concerns is that the Food and Drug Administration has not yet stepped in to regulate electronic cigarettes nor its flavored products, and it’s also troubling that some of the long-term effects of “vaping” are not yet known.

The coalition members said they have given suggestions to county officials but are still waiting to see what the proposed laws to ban them would look like. The county banned vaping nicotine products in public areas, along with cannabis, in March.

The Los Angeles City Council voted in April to investigate ways to curb the sale of flavored tobacco products to youth and young adults and study how other cities are tackling the issue.

“We need to tell these companies to get the candy out of these products,” said Jackie Goldberg, an LAUSD school board member. “We have not had, until recent years, a problem with smoking cigarettes and tobacco in our middle schools. It’s been a problem at the high school level for years, but not middle school.”

Goldberg said the school district is working with law enforcement and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which announced similar plans last year, to increase enforcement against sales of flavored tobacco products to minors.

LAUSD received a two-year, $4 million grant to create a student-led campaign to try to educate pupils and families about the potential dangers of using flavored nicotine products. In California, the legal age to purchase flavored tobacco products is 21.

“Nicotine taken by youth has a serious health impact,” said Jessica Simms, a board member of the Los Angeles division of the American Heart Association. “[Children] can’t study well, they can’t concentrate when their brain is exposed to nicotine. Once they’re hooked, it’s likely to be a lifelong addiction.”

Simms said people who use nicotine products before the age of 25 are more likely to use the products longer into their lives, which makes that age group a target for the companies.

Two students from Animo Leadership Charter High School spoke about their experiences with flavored nicotine products and how peer pressure led one of them to try the devices, which got her into trouble. Today, they are part of organizations supporting the ban on the products.

“This is not a small issue,” Goldberg said. “This is a health crisis.”