Youth activists take a stand against flavors in DC, declaring “Nicotine Addiction Shouldn’t Taste Like Candy”
When Yashi Srivastava first got involved with public health advocacy at her high school, she didn’t realize that smoking and vaping was such a big issue in her community.
“A lot of individuals don’t know how the tobacco issue is an issue for everyone. There’s so many factors to it – social justice, environment, mental health – you can find your space in the tobacco issue because it affects so many things around us,” said Srivastava, a truth ambassador.
“I just love to do this work, and I love the different reactions people have,” said Srivastava, as she gathered around truth’s Follow the Flavors truck in DC with 25 fellow youth activists from around the country to prepare for this year’s Moment of Action with truth®, the national youth smoking, vaping, and nicotine education campaign.
This year’s Moment of Action on April 19 took place nearly a year after the Food and Drug Administration proposed the removal of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from U.S. markets – a plan that young activists are calling on the FDA to finalize. The event leveraged decades of research to declare loudly that Nicotine Addiction Shouldn’t Taste Like Candy – shedding light on how the tobacco industry’s use of flavors can make nicotine products more appealing to young people, putting their physical and mental health at risk.
Activists engaged people alongside the Follow the Flavors truth truck, which was designed to mirror advertising tactics used by vape manufacturers and draw attention to the fact that flavors are contributing to the youth e-cigarette crisis. As people approached the truck, activists gave out free candy in an array of familiar flavors like mint, “Bubble Yum Yum,” and “Straw Melon Sour,” which are popular e-cigarette flavors. Activists also handed out stickers, engaged with young people on the topic of e-cigarettes and flavors, and distributed QR codes allowing people to connect with truth and access a free and anonymous quit vaping text messaging program, This is Quitting.
The activists also met with senior members of the Department of Health and Human Services and with 23 congressional offices, including those of Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Senators Dick Durbin and Cory Booker, asking them to push the FDA to finalize the flavor ban regulation. They also met with the office of Rep. Maxwell Frost, a fellow member of Generation Z.
Nicolle Vilca, a truth ambassador from New Jersey, said that her involvement was prompted by observing disparities in tobacco use in her neighborhood. “It started with seeing how, in my area, there are a lot of tobacco shops compared with other towns. It really takes a toll on my peers of Hispanic ethnicity, and seeing that really motivated me to become involved.”
The fight against flavored tobacco is being fought for young people, by young people
Young people have an important role to play by speaking out, educating each other, and advising policy makers. Menthol has been shown to increase the intensity of nicotine’s reinforcing effects and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to start and harder to quit. More than 40% of current high school smokers use menthol cigarettes, and half of all young people who ever tried smoking started with the flavored product. Additionally, nearly 75% of youth cigar smokers cite preferred flavors as their reason for choosing to use cigars. Of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes, nearly 85% use flavored products, and among them, 26.6% use menthol.
“The historic action of removing menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market has enormous potential to protect our nation’s youth, advance health equity, and save lives,” stated Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative. The tobacco industry has targeted youth with flavored products for decades and continues to do so today, contributing to more than 2.5 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes last year alone.
In addition to the Moment of Action in DC, partners across the country are hosting their own local events to call attention to the point that Nicotine Addiction Shouldn’t Taste like Candy. Young people interested in learning more or in hosting their own events can visit thetruth.com/flavors.
Resources for those looking to quit
Truth Initiative is already helping more than 560,000 young people quit with This is Quitting. A randomized clinical trial found that young adults aged 18-24 who used This is Quitting had nearly 40% higher odds of quitting compared to a control group. Teens and young adults can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709 to get immediate help to quit. Resources for parents of young people who vape are available for free at BecomeAnEX.org.
In addition to the national campaign, truth continues to raise up the voices of young people who have quit smoking and vaping nicotine through its Quitters initiative, allowing them to tell their stories in their own words and to inspire others to follow their journeys. These stories can be found on truth’s YouTube page.
This activation builds on the latest truth campaign, Breath of Stress Air, which calls attention to the connection between nicotine and mental health. The campaign directly illustrates how vaping nicotine can increase feelings of stress and can impact mental health, even as some e-cigarette companies market their products as stress relief. To turn stress air into fresh air, breathing exercises can help with nicotine cravings that can feel like stress and anxiety. For this reason, truth has also launched a partnership with Breathwrk through This is Quitting, and program users can access six months of free membership to Breathwrk Pro including access to custom breaths to help on their quit journey by texting “BREATHE” to 88709.
Additional resources for young people struggling with mental health or those who want to quit vaping are available at thetruth.com. Additional information about the connection between vaping nicotine, stress and mental health is available at: truthinitiative.org.