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February 1, 2017: Flavored Tobacco and Youth in San Francisco:  Do us a favor, no more flavor!

Cotton candy, bubble gum, and popcorn are all treats that kids enjoy.  But did you know that tobacco companies put these flavors in their products to target youth?  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, most teen smokers start by being introduced to flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes, chocolate hookah, and “Swisher Sweets” strawberry little cigars.

Tobacco companies are targeting our youth with flavored products, and we have to do something to prevent it.  Fruity, minty, and candy-like flavors make youth more likely to start smoking, and these products’ candy-like packaging is directed at kids and teens.  E-cigarettes particularly come in many flavors like “gummy bear”, “horchata”, “chicken and waffles”, and “boba” that are aimed at youth, especially those in minority groups.   Cheap pricing of these products targets kids further.  A pack of cigarettes can cost $5 to $8, while a package of two packaged flavored cigars can be commonly sold throughout San Francisco for 50 cents — right at a teen’s price point!

Flavored tobacco has similar negative health impacts as non-flavored tobacco, and can be more addictive than non-flavored tobacco.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers of menthol cigarettes are less likely to quit than smokers of non-flavored cigarettes.  Also, widespread research shows that flavors are a key reason why teens start using e-cigarettes, and that non-smoking teens who start vaping are much more likely to be smoking regular cigarettes a year later.

We at Breathe California’s Project E-NUFF surveyed 150 high school students in San Francisco.  We found that two-thirds of the students who used blunts preferred flavored blunts, and that half of the students who used e-cigarettes preferred flavored e-cigarettes.  The most common answer for why kids thought their peers used flavored tobacco was that “It tastes good.”  Almost 90% of the students who thought flavored tobacco products were harmful also thought stores in San Francisco should stop selling it.  We also conducted a focus group of adults in the Bayview about flavored tobacco and youth, and one participant notably stated, “Young people using these products … don’t have to wait until they’re 21.  It’s easy access.”

Project E-NUFF wants San Francisco to adopt a policy that will protect youth by ending the sale of flavored tobacco in San Francisco.  In 2009, Congress prohibited almost all flavors of cigarettes, but failed to end the sale of menthol cigarettes or flavors in other tobacco products.  This policy would close that loophole in San Francisco and make sure that cigarette companies could not target kids with flavors in any tobacco products.  It will reduce tobacco use among San Francisco youth, especially minority, disadvantaged, and low-income youth who are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry.

Nearby, Santa Clara County has already ended the sale of flavored tobacco for all of its unincorporated areas, and Oakland is now considering similar regulations.  New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, Providence, and Berkeley have already passed laws strongly restricting it.  San Francisco, a city known for effective health and social justice issue policies, should join these leading cities and counties in positively affecting the public’s health by ending the sale of flavored tobacco.

Flavors mask the taste of tobacco, but not the negative health effects.  Please join the cause and endorse Project E-NUFF’s efforts at ggbreathe.org/enuff.

Christopher Schouest, Victoria Laleau, Athina Leyba, Michelle Wu, Charles Ramilo, Randy Uang, Annam Janjua, Christelle Etienne

November 30, 2015: Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing; Breathe California urges Elected Leaders to join San Mateo area movement

Dear Editor,

On November 11, 2015, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro joined Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to announce a proposed rule to make the nation’s public housing properties entirely smoke-free, stating, “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.” The proposed rule would lessen existing disparities in secondhand smoke exposure between low- and higher-income residents. However this just applies to public housing agencies and would not protect the majority of San Mateo County residents. Breathe California applauds this proposal and calls upon local elected leaders throughout the county to go even further by joining the San Mateo area movement that is clearing smoke from all multi-unit housing including apartments, condos and townhouses.
Any two units sharing walls, ceiling or floors also share the consequences of a neighbor’s smoking habit: inhaling smoke through windows, doors, vents and electrical cracks. A troubling consequence of living next to someone who is addicted to nicotine in combustible cigarettes (or in electronic smoking devices which emit toxic aerosols) is the risk of waking up in a fire. A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) alert was sent to First Responders about e-cigarette fires.

It is time for local communities to prevent the public health and safety hazards of smoking and e-cigarette vaping in multi-unit housing. All residents of San Mateo County deserve protection from drifting pollutants and fire hazards from neighbors.

Tanya Stevenson, EdD, MPH
President & CEO
Golden Gate Public Health Partnership

10/15/2015:  Why Tobacco Free Pharmacies Matter

As a local nonprofit organization dedicated promoting lung health in our local communities, Breathe California, Golden Gate Public Health Partnership applauds the bold decision by the Daly City Council to eliminate the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.  Tobacco products are responsible for over 480,000 American lives each year, and according to the latest Surgeon General’s report, 5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely of smoking-caused disease. 1

Wouldn’t you agree that it is fundamentally inconsistent with a pharmacy’s commitment to health to reap billions in profits from tobacco products – the number one cause of preventable death and disease?  We must take strong action now, and Daly City’s bold move requiring that pharmacies be tobacco-free is precisely the type of action we need.  This policy not only will translate to a profound positive impact on our community’s health, it also represents a huge stride towards helping end the tobacco epidemic for good.  We’re proud that Daly City is one of the first cities to set that stride in motion!

-Breathe California

7/28/15:  Why We Need Smoke Free Multi-Unit Housing

Dear Editor,

As an advocate for smoke-free multi-unit housing, I would like to address a statement on smokers’ “rights”. I want to start by saying people do not have a right to smoke. In fact, there is no constitutional right to smoke. Throughout the constitution, there is not one statement that mentions smoking as a right. Moreover, there is no fundamental right to smoke. Some laws that fall under fundamental rights include the right to liberty, religion, privacy, etc. Some get confused that the right to privacy, which usually means privacy inside the home, includes the right to smoke within the home. However, the right to privacy within the home means the privacy of marriage, family relationships, raising children, and contraception, but not the right to smoke. Additionally, smokers are not a protected class under the constitution. Protected groups of people are protected by law in that they cannot be discriminated against based on their race, gender, age, etc. Because of this law, they are protected from being discriminated against certain fundamental interests, which include the right to vote, right to migrate interstate, right to be a political candidate, etc. Smoking is not one of these fundamental interests, therefore, smokers are not protected. Given all of this, we are allowed to regulate smoking to protect the public from second-hand smoke. Especially in multi-unit housing, where smoking drifts inside the home and exposes tenants to toxic smoke. We all have the right to breathe, but not the constitutional right to smoke.

Thank you,

Natalie Andrade, Youth Advocate at Breathe California

9/25/2015: We Commend Daly City’s leadership on E-cigarette Policies!

I commend the City of Daly City for adopting an ordinance that prohibits the use of electronic nicotine delivery devices (e-cigarettes, vape pens, hookah pens, etc.) in the same public places that smoking regular cigarettes is prohibited.

With the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and their increasing usage in public spaces, we must treat e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes to protect businesses and the public.  Similar policies have already been adopted by cities and towns across the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston, as well as San Francisco, Contra Costa County, and the City of Richmond in the Bay Area.

The makers and vendors of e-cigarettes continue to make unfounded claims about their product’s safety, often using questionable studies that have neither been conducted by the FDA nor peer reviewed for publication in reputable medical journals.  The public is asked to trust that e-cigarettes are safe based on the word of the Big Tobacco companies that profit from selling them. I do not believe that the public should be exposed to the health hazards posed by e-cigarettes when there is no evidence that they are truly safe.

I support a common sense approach to regulate the use of e-cigarettes in the same manner as regular cigarettes. And I urge other city and county jurisdictions to be proactive in adopting e-cigarette legislation.

Let’s not allow the tobacco industry to turn back the hands of time and expose our citizens to toxic secondhand aerosol in public places.

Karen Licavoli, MPH
Vice President of Programs
Breathe California