With smoking now widely known as the nation’s No. 1 preventable killer, Big Tobacco is targeting our kids with new products that give an illusion of more safety but carry the age-old motive to hook kids on tobacco at a young age.
Preventing children from picking up nicotine addiction is the best way to keep them free of tobacco-related disease for life. That’s why we’ve each introduced bills that seek to curb youth usage of smokeless (chewing) tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Last year, many were shocked when Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres, died from cancer of the salivary glands that was related to decades of smokeless tobacco usage.
Former World Series hero Curt Schilling, who helped propel the Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox to championships, has blamed his bout with mouth cancer on chewing tobacco.
Use of chewing tobacco by professional athletes sends the wrong message to our kids, but nonetheless a powerful one. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that the use of smokeless tobacco by players has a powerful “role model effect” on youths, particularly young males.
It’s no wonder then that while overall rates of smoking have declined thanks to several decades of intense educational programs, smokeless tobacco rates have remained stubbornly high among youth. One in every 6 high school boys report regular usage.
Assembly Bill 768 bans smokeless tobacco at all ballparks in California with organized baseball, including all five major league stadiums. Not only would this prevent usage at high school and college games, but our youths would not be unduly influenced by seeing their heroes serve as de-facto smokeless tobacco advertisers.
While smokeless tobacco must at least carry a warning label, electronic cigarettes unfortunately are being marketed as both a safe alternative to regular cigarettes and a tool to help smokers quit.
With mounting evidence demonstrating the health risks of e-cigarettes, we must close the legal loopholes that have enabled kids to be targeted with products that give a false sense of safety.
Tobacco makers are prohibited from marketing cigarettes to youths or producing various flavors, but the same is not true of e-cigarettes.
Sales of e-cigarette devices to minors are prohibited in California, but gummy bear, cotton candy and bubble gum flavors are widely available to our young people in many communities.
Meanwhile, the use of e-cigarettes is increasing at alarming rates among our youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a quarter of a million youths who had never smoked a traditional cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, and youth usage tripled between 2011 and 2013.
The availability of e-cigarettes to kids belies a growing public health concern over the products. The California Department of Public Health reported in January that e-cigarettes contain 10 chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.
A team of researchers at UCSF also found that e-cigarettes deliver carcinogens that have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
Senate Bill 140 would ensure that e-cigarettes are subject to the same state rules that prohibit smoking in certain public places as well as prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors with regulations and enforcement.
In 2014, 40,000 Californians died from tobacco-related diseases, which cost California’s health care system more than $13 billion annually, with taxpayers picking up a $3 billion bill for tobacco-regulated disease in the Medi-Cal program alone.
These two bills are part of a five-bill effort at the California state Capitol that is supported by the Save Lives Coalition of doctors, nurses, health professionals, patients and nonprofit health organizations that seek to curb tobacco usage among Californians, particularly youths.
Individually, these bills are good policy; together, they take a step toward protecting youths from predatory tobacco companies and the grip of nicotine addiction.
Sen. Mark Leno is a Democrat from San Francisco. Assemblyman Tony Thurmond is a Democrat from Richmond.*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.