Amid an e-cigarette epidemic, millions of middle and high school students across the country are hooked on vaping and in California 90% of student tobacco users prefer flavored products.

“The last thing students should face when they go back to school is the pressure and temptation to try using tobacco,” said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond during a recent news conference. 

“Tobacco companies will use every dirty, deceptive trick in their playbook so they can keep hooking kids on nicotine for massive profit,” he added. “It’s time for California to stand up to Big Tobacco and say YES — we will vote in November to get rid of candy-flavored e-cigarettes and minty-menthol cigarettes for good.”

Proposition 31 on the Nov. 8 ballot would end the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, statewide. The proposition is a referendum which challenges SB 793, a bill Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last year, banning stores from selling flavored e-cigarettes, menthol-flavored e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products in California. A YES vote keeps that ban as California law.

Thurmond, who lost both his parents to cancer, takes the issue seriously and blames the tobacco industry for trying to undermine the bill. At a press conference held at Thomas Jefferson High School in South L.A., Thurmond was joined by Dr. Tamai Johnson, the school’s principal, along with several of her students who participate in the school’s Tobacco Use and Prevention Education (TUPE) program.

“Many times the tobacco industry has targeted many communities — Black and Brown communities — for use of menthol and other products that create more risk for cancer,” Thurmond said.

Principal Jonnson agreed.

“Flavored tobacco entices our youth and our students have easy access to these products,” she said, pointing out that many middle and high school students are especially attracted to vape products. “There are over 15,000 flavors on the market. Candy-flavored tobacco lures young people and is highly addictive.”

She added that the amount of nicotine in one vaping canister is comparable to a full pack of cigarettes. 

Nicotine is known to be a highly addictive stimulant which can cause serious health problems including increased blood pressure and hardening of arterial walls, causing heart attacks. Smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death among Black Americans.

“Jefferson High and the Tobacco Use and Prevention Education program have a very strong partnership,” Johnson said. “We work hand in hand to educate our youth and their families about the dangers of tobacco use.”

A recent study, published in Tobacco Control, found that menthol cigarettes “were responsible for 10.1 million extra smokers, 3 million life years lost and 378,000 premature deaths” between 1980 and 2018.

According to proposition 31 supporters, menthol flavoring disguises the harsh taste of cigarettes and remains a primary reason why young people become addicted to smoking. It’s said that half of all adult smokers aged 18-34 were introduced to smoking through menthol cigarettes.

Thurmond introduced and praised the Jefferson High School students at the news conference, who are committing their time to spread the word about the harmful effects of vaping and smoking. 

“They’re great leaders, they’re peer leaders,” he said. “They’re helping their peers understand there are dangers and risks associated with tobacco use. I’m grateful for them.”

The superintendent noted that as a former legislator, the first bill he introduced in Sacramento was one banning the use of chewing tobacco in major league baseball in California stadiums. He said he did that because every year 500,000 students would try chewing tobacco for the first time, which can lead to other addictions down the line.

“It’s very misleading when kids hear about flavored tobacco products that have names like candy-flavors,” Thurmond said. “It minimizes the risk that they face by trying these products.”

TUPE participant Daniel Valadez agreed.

“It’s flavors that hook kids, it’s really that simple,” the 17-year-old said, while his group stood behind him at the news conference holding banners they made for the event. 

“It is not OK for Big Tobacco to try and hook another generation of young people,” Valadez added. “We are tomorrow’s leaders and therefore our health has to be protected.”

For more information, visit voteyeson31.com.

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