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Minnesota Students, Educators Call on Lawmakers to Act on Flavored Tobacco

ST. PAUL, Minn., March 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, students and school staff called on Minnesota lawmakers to act swiftly to end all flavored tobacco sales. While students and schools continue to battle youth tobacco use and its related health harms and disruptions in schools across the state, progress has stalled on the bill (SF2123/HF2177) to end the sale of menthol and all flavored commercial tobacco products in Minnesota. Last week, around 250 youth, parents and advocates from around the state joined Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation's Day at the Capitol and urged Minnesota lawmakers to act swiftly and end flavored tobacco sales.

The bill to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products – including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, e-cigarettes, hookah and smokeless tobacco – will prevent youth addiction and improve health for all Minnesota residents. This is the fourth year a flavored commercial tobacco sales bill has been in play at the Capitol and meanwhile, flavors continue to drive youth tobacco use. At the news conference today, students and school staff shared how youth tobacco use – especially youth vaping – remains a huge problem in Minnesota schools.

"We're asking lawmakers to stay focused on one of the top health problems affecting our kids: tobacco use," said Bethlehem Yewhalawork, a program manager at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center. "Passing a comprehensive flavor policy will prevent youth addiction and improve health for all Minnesotans."

Yewhalawork thanked the bill's lead authors, Senate President Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Ethan Cha, and its bipartisan supporters. She emphasized the flavored tobacco policy will prevent youth addiction and alleviate the crisis of addiction seen at middle and high schools throughout Minnesota.

Flavors are driving the state's youth tobacco crisis. The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey found that over 75 percent of Minnesota's 8th and 11th graders who use tobacco report using flavored products. According to doctors and health experts, tobacco use sets kids up for a lifetime of nicotine addiction and serious health conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Preethika Naveen, a senior at Eagan High School, said: "It's true that smoking is way down. But many kids use menthol chew and vape e-cigarettes. The reason why? Because of the flavors. There are like 15,000 flavors of e-cigarettes – my friends use icy guava or mint – that seem to entice them. The smell is fruity and sweet, and a lot of times at school I can't use bathrooms on certain floors because of vaping. Students vape between class and hit it in class and in their car between classes."

Da'kwon Eppolite, a student at Lourdes High School in Rochester said, "I don't think it's fair for the tobacco companies to target me and my friends and try to addict us, so they can be the ones to make the money. But right now, these companies can sell products in flavors like grape, bubble gum, chocolate and even mint. And a lot of the most popular e-cigarettes like Loon bars have super-high levels of nicotine. Young people are already dealing with the stress of schoolwork, family, friends and the pandemic. The last thing we need is for an industry to target us and hook us on an expensive and incredibly harmful product."

"Nearly all the students I see are using flavored e-cigarettes. Most students say they probably would not use tobacco if the nicotine was not flavored," said Colleen O'Neil, LADC, CPP, a Chemical Health Prevention Specialist at Mounds View School District, who showed some of the tobacco products she has recently confiscated in her school. "School administrators and support staff throughout Minnesota are stretched thin and are challenged to meet the needs of our students on both an education and emotional level. We are doing everything we can to help students overcome immense challenges and to get off the 'wheel' of addiction. If we could get rid of the flavors, I firmly believe we will see fewer kids begin to vape and more kids realizing they need programs to help them quit." 

Manee Xiong, a senior at Hamline University, shared that she cares about tobacco prevention and flavored policy because the tobacco industry has continuously targeted youth and marginalized communities. Xiong said, "I have witnessed firsthand the impact tobacco – specifically flavored vapes – has made within my immediate family and younger cousins. In addition to what we're seeing in younger kids, I'm also seeing college classmates who started young and now can't quit their tobacco addiction. Frankly, it's upsetting and unacceptable to see an industry profit off the challenges that young generations face."

Minnesota is ready to end flavored tobacco sales. The state is a longtime leader in tobacco prevention policies and a quarter of the state's population is already covered by 28 local policies restricting sales of flavored and/or menthol tobacco products.

A January 2023 poll that found 70 percent of residents are concerned about vaping, smoking and other tobacco use among Minnesota youth. The survey found that 62 percent of Minnesota residents support "the proposal to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Minnesota," including fruit, mint and candy flavored e-cigarettes, menthol-flavored cigarettes, flavored hookah tobacco and flavored chewing tobacco – versus 33 percent who oppose the policy. Among African American respondents, 68 percent support the policy to end flavored tobacco sales. The poll found strong support among people who identify as DFL, Republican and Independent.

A recording of the news conference is available here.

More information:

Fact Sheet: End the sale of all menthol and flavored tobacco products

Recent Minnesota Poll: 2023 Flavored Tobacco Poll Summary

About Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation:

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is a coalition of more than 50 organizations that share a common goal of advancing justice by striving toward a future where every person is free from commercial tobacco's harms and can reach their full health potential.

Partners include: A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation, Advocates for Better Health, Allina Health, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Minnesota, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Cancer Legal Care, CentraCare, Children's Minnesota, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio – CLUES, Dodge County Public Health, Essentia Health, Eugene Nichols, Faribault Martin & Watonwan Co SHIP, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, HealthPartners, Hennepin County Public Health, Hennepin Healthcare, Horizon Public Health, Indigenous Peoples Task Force, Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, Local Public Health Association of Minnesota, Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, Medica, Meeker McLeod Sibley Community Health Services, MHA – Minnesota Hospital Association, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, Minnesota Cancer Alliance, Minnesota Council of Health Plans, Minnesota Dental Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Public Health Association, Minnesota Society for Public Health Education, Minnesota Youth Council, MNAAP – Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Mowery Communications, LLC, NAMI Minnesota, NorthPoint Health & Wellness, Olmsted Medical Center, Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes, PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Perham Health, Public Health Law Center, Rainbow Health, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, Steele County Public Health, Tobacco-Free Alliance, UCare, WellShare International, Winona County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention.

Note: Tobacco in this release refers specifically to the use of manufactured, commercial tobacco products, and not to the sacred, medicinal and traditional use of tobacco by American Indians and other groups.

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SOURCE Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation

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