The California Adolescent Health Collaborative (CAHC) would like to express our support for the Oakland Children - Smoking Prevention Ordinance to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products in Oakland, including menthol, and to prohibit tobacco discounts and coupons. Since 1994, CAHC has been working across sectors to improve the health of California’s adolescents and the capacity of our systems to support adolescent health. Our strategy is to connect research and practice so that young people develop the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to transition successfully into adulthood. We partner with schools, school districts, public health departments, youth empowerment and employment organizations, juvenile justice systems, healthcare providers, youth leaders, and scientific researchers in service of our mission. We exist because adolescents are different, science proves this and we all know it. It’s time that our policy reflects this knowledge as we strive to better care for our youth on the cusp of adulthood. This means not allowing tobacco companies to lure youth into toxic nicotine addiction with appealing flavors and marketing.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and if smoking continues at current rates, 5.6 million young people under the age of 18 will die of a smoking-related disease. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Alameda County (24.5% of all deaths), and 19% of Oakland youth have been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 15% statewide. Youth smoking prevention is important, as 90% of all people who smoke start smoking by age 18 and 99% start by age 26. Research shows that 81% of youth tobacco users ages 12-17 initiated with a flavored product, and 80% used a flavored tobacco product in the past month. While youth smoking has declined over the past decade, use of non-cigarette tobacco products has increased. In the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), 78% of 11th grade smokers reported starting smoking between ages 11 and 17. E-cigarette use tripled among U.S. high school youth from 2013 (4%) to 2014 (13%), and reached 22% among OUSD 11th graders.
CAHC and our partners at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco were so alarmed at the raising rates of e-cigarette use that we have been co-leading a study with youth journalists, to better understand the Marketing and promotion of E-cigarettes Toward Adolescents in Oakland (META-Oak Study). We are in the process of reporting our findings, but through our photovoice process we have found that flavors, colors, and price points are essential components not only of the way that tobacco and e-cigarette products are marketed in Oakland, but also of the way that youth themselves perceive and learn about such carcinogenic vices. In the process of investigating our research question, our youth co-researchers have become avid anti-tobacco advocates. Given that we don’t have the opportunity to intensively train all of Oakland’s youth, this ban is the next best thing we can do to protect them from predatory big tobacco.
CAHC is dedicated to health equity. Given the evidence that flavors and menthol tobacco products are disproportionately marketed toward and used by adolescents and communities of color, we believe that a citywide universal ban can bring us closer to a health equitable city. CAHC and our partners work with some of the most vulnerable youth: foster children, homeless children, commercially exploited children, children who have been accused of committing crimes and are incarcerated. In our experience, too many children are left behind. Let’s prioritize health equity starting early, and give our youth a fighting chance.
Few programs or organizations have the ability to positively impact as many children as do law-makers. We hope that Oakland will lead the way for the nation in emphasizing the importance of our children’s health by banning flavored tobacco products including menthol.