Letter to the Editor: Edgewater must end sales of tobacco products that appeal to children and historically marginalized groups
The tobacco industry relentlessly targets young people and historically marginalized groups with its addictive and deadly tobacco products. Sadly, it’s no surprise that young people continue to be addicted. The industry is targeting young people using massive million dollar marketing campaigns and harmful candy-tasting tobacco products.
As the director of Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, Community Pediatrician and Director of Health Services and Addiction Prevention Coordinator with Jeffco Public Schools, we are joining forces to urge our leaders at Edgewater to take a bold step forward. We are calling on Edgewater City Council to adopt a policy to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products. For decades, we’ve known that tobacco and nicotine can harm the growing brain of adolescents and ultimately have long-term health consequences. The town of Edgewater has been a consistent leader in preventing youth smoking in Colorado. Now Edgewater can once again protect young people and join more than 300 other communities across the country, including five in Colorado, who have adopted policies on flavored tobacco.
Flavored tobacco products often lead to lifelong nicotine addiction. Among adolescents and young adults in the United States who have ever used tobacco, 81 percent of adolescents and 86 percent of young adults reported that their first product was flavored. The tobacco industry has been particularly aggressive in marketing menthol-flavored tobacco products to youth, low-income communities, LGBTQ + communities, and communities of color. Menthol-flavored cigarettes and little cigars remain key contributors to preventable death and disease, especially among communities of color, where nine in ten black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes.
According to the 2019 Colorado Healthy Children Survey, tobacco use among youth remains problematic locally, with more than one in four young people in Jefferson County reporting current e-cigarette (also known as vaping) use. More recent national data, the National Youth Smoking Survey, found that more than eight in ten young people who used e-cigarettes reported using flavored e-cigarettes in 2020.
The tobacco industry will argue that adults who use tobacco products have the right to make informed choices about what they put in their bodies. Yet, they may also forget to mention that nine in ten adults who smoke cigarettes started before the age of 18. The industry argument also conveniently ignores that chronic nicotine use is far from a choice. It is an addiction.
We must not wait to act locally as community members continue to be drawn to smoking and health gaps continue to widen. As we assess the social, behavioral, educational and economic impacts of COVID-19 on our community, our schools and healthcare providers face similar challenges in preventing and addressing the effects of health disparities that limit opportunities for young people.
By delivering policy solutions based on scientific evidence and the very real experiences of parents, youth, healthcare providers and educators in our community, we encourage Edgewater City Council to continue to lead the way. to reduce tobacco use among youth and overthrow the tobacco industry on youth, low income communities, LGBTQ + communities and communities of color.
In solidarity for the health of young people,
Jessica L. Garza, Director, Jefferson Jr./Sr. High school
Brian Gablehouse, MD, FAAP, Peak Pediatrics & American Academy of Pediatrics, Colorado Chapter
Julie Wilken, Director of Health Services, Jeffco Public Schools
Keke Stickney, Addiction Prevention Coordinator, Jeffco Public Schools