Opinion: Many California cities have banned flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes. San Diego should be next.

Weber, MD, is a state assemblyman who represents the 79th Assembly District. She lives in La Mesa.

There is no vaccine for addiction, which means global pandemics like the COVID-19 pandemic come and go while the public health crisis of tobacco addiction could rage on forever – with the impact most devastating in black neighborhoods.

The big tobacco companies want it that way, which is why they developed highly addictive mint and menthol cigarettes, the original candy-flavored tobacco, and spent decades and hundreds of millions of advertising dollars to hook black children to nicotine-filled candy-flavored cigarettes.

It’s also why more than 100 jurisdictions across the state – including Los Angeles County and the City of Long Beach – have taken a stand for health and fairness and ended the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol and cheap cigarettes. sweet cigars and cigarillos. San Diego should be next. Failure to do so will only embolden a tobacco industry that is already preparing to protect and expand its profitable but deadly business model in the 2022 statewide ballot.

A new study from UC San Diego adds a renewed sense of urgency to our need to protect public health by ending the sale of menthol cigarettes. Data shows that smokers who use menthol cigarettes are 53% less likely than non-menthol smokers to successfully quit smoking for an entire year.

Behind these staggering statistics are 60 years of clever marketing schemes – ads featuring darker-skinned models and even the free distribution of cigarette packs in black neighborhoods – and dark science. A minty flavoring agent derived from peppermint oil is used to flavor menthol cigarettes and make them more palatable to consumers, so they are easier to start and harder to quit. It’s no wonder that 85% of black smokers today use menthol cigarettes, and smoking is a leading cause of death in black neighborhoods across the country.

Big Tobacco has turned this profitable but deadly combination of flavors and marketing into a new target: children.

Pushing e-cigarettes that come in brightly colored packaging and candy flavors like bubblegum, strawberry shortcake and gummy bear, Big Tobacco has the recipe to inspire kids to become the next generation of nicotine users. Today, some 3.6 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes, and 80% started with a flavored product.

California has always been at the forefront of tobacco prevention policies. In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 56, which raised cigarette taxes by $2 per pack to help fund cessation programs for smokers trying to quit. Today, these call centers help identify and refer tobacco users to the California Smokers’ Helpline, which offers quitting help online, by phone and through mobile apps. Medi-Cal recipients can receive free nicotine patches. Federally licensed health care centers receive state assistance to identify and treat nicotine addiction.

As a physician, I know we still have work to do to protect children from nicotine addiction, and the only logical path is to get these flavored products off the shelves.

California was aiming to do just that when, battling Big Tobacco’s tens of millions of lobbying and advertising dollars, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 793 last year. The bipartisan and grassroots law would end the sale of candy-flavored e-cigarettes and mint-flavored menthol cigarettes statewide. Now the tobacco companies are preparing to release millions more to overturn the law.

Flavors are, and always have been, the tobacco industry’s key to enticing consumers to become addicted to nicotine; the industry knows how difficult it is for smokers to quit once they start using a flavored product.

In the coming months, expect Big Tobacco to use every trick in its deceptive playbook to stop California from protecting children from nicotine addiction. San Diego, as the second largest city in California, must take the lead in ending this public health crisis by permanently ending the sale of candy flavored nicotine cigarettes and peppermint cigarettes. menthol.

Bernard P. Love