Opinion: San Diego can promote health equity during Black History Month with vaping ban

A teenager secretly smoking an electronic cigarette. Photo via Pixabay

It’s amazing that 42% of high school students in San Diego have vaped. Nicotine addiction among adolescents is on the rise, affecting brain development, attention span, memory and learning ability.

Fortunately, the people of San Diegan have an attorney on the city council. The Stopping Adolescent Addiction to Flavored E-Cigarettes order was presented by its author, Council Member Marni von Wilpert, on February 9, and will be presented to Council in early March. The SAAFE order would end the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes, also known as vapes.

It’s not hard to see why vaping rates have skyrocketed among teens. Vaping products are highly addictive and come in over 10,000 flavors including Sour Gummy Worm, Apple Juice and Unicorn Poop.

Flavors like these. The SAAFE ordinance is proposed to protect our young people from these predatory tactics.

Equally important is von Wilpert’s proposal to include menthol products in the prescription. Menthol is the original flavored tobacco and has become the basis of predatory marketing practices.

Before the tobacco industry decided to push menthol products into communities of color, only 3% of black smokers used menthol. After decades of relentless and voracious marketing, 85% of black smokers use menthol products.

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council has led the fight against menthol tobacco products. The council describes menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars as “the major vectors of death and disease among black, brown and other poor communities of color.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of Omicron, nothing could be more helpful in saving black lives than removing these products from the black community.

Public health and youth advocates at San Diego Youth Serving celebrate von Wilpert’s leadership in the fight against menthol tobacco and flavored e-cigarettes with the SAAFE prescription. In the context of Black History Month, this is an important step toward health equity for all San Diegans.

For more information or to get involved in the fight against tobacco, visit SavingBlackLives.org.

Cynthia Knapp is program manager for the San Diego Smoke-Free Project at SAY San Diego. Dr. Phillip Gardiner is Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.

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