Tobacco Free Kids campaign graphic

Big Tobacco knows what we want. “We” means everyone — your kids and their friends, your neighbors and coworkers, long time smokers — even those who’ve never tried a puff in their life. It’s expanded beyond the traditional means of “lighting up” a cigarette — that glamor and allure has since passed. New ways, new flavors and new media hint at other “cool” methods to consume tobacco.

Here’s are the ways Big Tobacco targets us every day:

Countless Enticing Flavors

The regular old tan and white stinky sticks aren’t as appealing anymore. Stats show it, and Big Tobacco knows it. They’ve come back with neon-colored, sleek e-cigarettes that emit a fleeting vapor. The latest data shows that over 2 million kids used e-cigarettes in 2021, according to 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, and 85% of them use flavored tobacco products. Flavors like gummy bear, chocolate and cherry dynamite encourage kids to lean into their curiosity, not realizing the grip nicotine can have, even on a young person.

There’s also menthol cigarettes — easing those into smoking with a minty-fresh sensation, masking tobacco’s harshness and burn. Menthol cigarettes are more appealing to first-time users — often youth — and are tied to less successful quitting rates.

Colorful Displays All Around Us

Along with a massive variety of flavors, you can get any color in any neighborhood. Enter any San Diego convenience store and they’re sure to be piled high and prominently by the cashier. A recent op-ed written by a San Diego convenience store owner notes that e-cigarettes make up 30% of their inventory.

Data shows the most common way for youth to get e-cigarettes is through a friend — 33% obtain them this way. How does that happen? They’re everywhere: School restrooms, locker rooms, after school activities. They’re popular locally — one in four San Diegan high schoolers use e-cigarettes.

All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

Tobacco products surround us, even as we stream our favorite TV shows. The Truth Initiative encapsulated this data in a recent study, showing that tobacco lit up the screen in 2020 with “60% of young people’s top 15 favorite streaming and broadcast season release featured smoking.”

In fact, shows like “The Queen’s Gambit,” “The Umbrella Academy,” “Euphoria,” “Family Guy” and “On My Block” use frequent tobacco imagery. The study also mentions tobacco depictions in popular music videos, such as “My Oh My” by Camila Cabello and “Heartless” by The Weeknd.

We spend a lot of time with our favorite TV characters. We quote them, we try and dress like them and they inspire our actions, too. With massive amounts of pop culture references and a slew of tempting candy flavors, how can youth be protected from trying vaping or smoking? And how can long-term smokers quit the addiction when our favorite actors are “smoking” on-screen on-the-daily?

San Diego has the opportunity to protect its communities. The City Council will vote on the SAAFE Act on Monday, April 25, to end the sale of flavored tobacco in San Diego. Visit sandiegansvsbigtobacco.org to learn more.