The Chicago City Council delivered a win for kids over the tobacco industry by voting 46-4 on Sept. 9 to prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes.
I am president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and this legislation is a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop e-cigarettes from addicting a generation of kids. This action comes at a critical time as a recent study, highlighted in The New York Times, found that young people who vape are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
A total victory would have included action on menthol cigarettes. We are disappointed that the City Council has deferred action on menthol cigarette because it is a proven fact that the tobacco industry has long targeted kids and Black Americans with menthol cigarettes.
We strongly urge the City Council to tackle the problem of all remaining flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, because it’s time to stop tobacco companies once and for all from targeting and addicting kids and others with flavored products.
This action on flavored e-cigarettes is urgently needed given the alarming increase in youth e-cigarette use in recent years that has been driven by flavored e-cigarettes. In Illinois, about 1 in 5 high school students (19.9 percent) use e-cigarettes. The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes have fueled this epidemic—97 percent of youth e-cigarette users report using a flavored product in the past month, and 70 percent cite flavors as the reason for their use.
We thank those who have led and supported the Chicago effort, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot; 19th Ward Ald. Matthew O’Shea, who sponsored the e-cigarette ordinance; 16th Ward Ald. Stephanie Coleman; and 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, chair of the Health and Human Relations Committee.
Thank you also to all of the doctors, dentists, public health advocates and community leaders who persevered to make this happen. We know they share our view that today’s victory is just a step down the road of prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products.
Flavored products have long been a favorite tobacco industry strategy for targeting kids. In addition to e-cigarettes, more than half of youth smokers—including 7 out of 10 Black youth smokers—smoke menthol cigarettes. The evidence shows that menthol cigarettes make it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit.
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 suffer from higher rates of tobacco-related death and disease than do other groups.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death for Black Americans. Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes will have enormous public health benefits, especially among Black Americans. It will reduce the number of young people who start smoking, help more smokers quit, save lives and reduce tobacco-related health disparities.
The City Council should act promptly to end the sale of menthol cigarettes.
Chicago’s action does provide a major boost for the growing national movement to end the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. California overwhelmingly passed a bill last month to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes. It became the second state, after Massachusetts, to end the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
Three other states and dozens of cities across the country have ended the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.
Matthew L. Myers