As parents, educators, and health care providers, we are personally invested in the issue of flavored tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
We have seen the harm caused by vaping addiction in kids, at home, in the classroom, and in our medical facilities. Nicotine can have long-lasting effects on brain development, impacting impulse control, the ability to learn and concentration — all at a time when our kids are under incredible stress already.
We simply cannot wait any longer to address the escalating crisis of nicotine addiction among our young people.
We know that tobacco addiction that starts young can last for a lifetime. This is why we need House Bill 22-1064, a bipartisan bill to end the sale of flavored tobacco products, statewide. The bill will protect Colorado kids from tobacco addiction, save lives and advance health equity for communities of color that have been targeted by the tobacco industry.
Right now, 1 in 4 Colorado youth use e-cigarettes. Among young people who have tried tobacco, 8 in 10 started with a flavored product.
Flavored products have long been a favorite tobacco industry strategy for targeting young people. With candy and fruit flavors such as chocolate and banana, flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, are designed to mimic the flavors kids are used to seeing on their cereal boxes or gum packs. They hook teens and set them on a path to lifelong addiction.
Major tobacco companies are spending $136 million per year to promote their products in Colorado, according to the Federal Trade Commision, and many of their marketing efforts directly reach kids. Tobacco companies will fight this bill with all the money and power they have – because it affects their future customers and cuts into their future profits.
HB22 1064 helps prevent youth from ever starting to use tobacco, because eliminating flavors will make these products less attractive to young people. Tobacco products that taste like cigarettes, not cotton candy, are less appealing.
Furthermore, we know the tobacco industry has targeted communities of color, and even kids, in particular with menthol cigarettes for decades. Research has shown menthol makes cigarettes easier to start and harder to quit, so ending the sale of menthol products will reduce smoking-related health disparities faced by communities of color, LGBTQ, and other marginalized communities.
For more than 60 years, the tobacco industry has been deliberately targeting the Black community with menthol cigarettes, profiting enormously while endangering Black lives and health. In the 1950s, fewer than 10 percent of Black Americans who smoked used menthol cigarettes — today, that number is 85. Heavy advertising and cheaper prices have changed the equation.
The same is true in the Hispanic community; in the 1970s and 1980s, the industry took note of the rapidly changing demographics across the country. It used tactics similar to those used in the Black community — sponsoring cultural events and scholarships to garner loyalty — at the expense of lives.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among Hispanic high school students today. Almost 19 percent of Hispanic high school students currently use e-cigarettes, which is lower than the rate among white students, but higher than the e-cigarette use rate for African American students.
Tobacco use comes at a high cost to those who use, harming nearly every organ in the body, but its toll is especially high on African Americans and Hispanics. From 1980 to 2018, menthol cigarettes were responsible for 1.5 million extra smokers, 157,000 smoking-related premature deaths and 1.5 million excess life-years lost in the African American community.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of tobacco-related cancer incidence, more than 43,000 Hispanics are diagnosed with tobacco-related cancer each year and more than 18,000 die from tobacco-related cancer each year. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic men and the second-leading cause among Hispanic women.
Lack of access to information on how to quit, and meager access to health care in both Black and Hispanic communities exacerbates these realities.
Nicotine addiction costs money to the state and the health-care system. According to a 2020 study, smoking costs the state of Colorado almost $167,000 per smoker. The annual health-care expenditures in Colorado directly caused by tobacco use totaled $1.89 billion in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means each Colorado household pays almost $700 each year in state and local taxes to cover these costs.
With HB22-1064, we can take a big step forward in ending nicotine addiction and saving Colorado taxpayers money by making smart investments in communities and reducing health-care costs by ending the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide.
Jennifer Bacon, of Denver, represents District 7 and Kyle Mullica, of Northglenn, represents Dsitrct 34 in the State House of Representatives.
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