“You’ve come a long way baby.”
Many of my younger patients do not recognize this advertising slogan. But they are experiencing the impact.
For years, tobacco companies have extensively targeted women by associating cigarettes with social desirability, independence, weight control, and having fun. Like most other advertisements, they often feature slim, attractive and athletic models, perhaps best encapsulated in the name Phillip Morris chose for their new brand of cigarettes in 1968: Virginia Slims.
Now the tobacco companies are using the same tricks with flavored tobacco products, often menthol, to hook kids, LGBTQ + people, Black people and other marginalized communities.
The truth is that tobacco does not taste good. By masking the harshness and soothing the irritation caused by tobacco smoke, flavors like cherry crush, vivid vanilla or banana cream (actual flavored tobacco flavors), make it easier for beginners – primarily youth – to experiment with tobacco and ultimately become addicted. In short, flavors hook kids.
This is intentional. The tobacco companies know that 95% of adult smokers start by age 21. The flavored products aren’t for adults – tobacco companies are purposefully designing and marketing products to our children to get them addicted to nicotine.
And it’s working.
Four out of five youth who have ever used tobacco products started with a flavored product and tobacco use among Maine youth has been skyrocketing – nearly 1 in 3 Maine middle and high schoolers now uses some form of tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, e- cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
A recent survey of students in California found that among tobacco product users, more than 91% use flavored tobacco and about half of cigarette smokers use menthol flavored cigarettes.
As a reproductive health care provider, you might think addressing tobacco use would not be within my scope of practice, but you’d be mistaken.
Reproductive health care patients are younger, many are part of the LBGTQ + community, and are less likely to have a relationship with a primary care provider. My patients are also more likely to disclose issues like substance use, mental health concerns, or intimate partner violence in a health center like Planned Parenthood than in other settings.
In short, reproductive health care providers are on the frontlines, seeing all patients regardless of their insurance status, sexual orientation or gender identity, or ability to pay.
Flavored tobacco products – and the tobacco companies pushing them – are a threat to my patients and our communities.
Which is why I’m optimistic that next month, Brunswick will become the third municipality in Maine to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products.
Maine youth should grow up free from tobacco addiction. If getting flavored tobacco off our store shelves prevents even a fraction of our kids from using tobacco and becoming addicted to nicotine, this policy will be a success story.
For my patients and all Maine kids, please join me in telling the Brunswick City Council, “we have come a long way, baby,” and we’re not going to let the tobacco industry target another generation of Maine kids.
Stephanie Small is a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in Topsham.