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Proposition 31 passes in California: flavored tobacco will be banned


Californians this week voted to uphold the state's ban on all flavored tobacco products. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, anti-smoking advocates hope more states and federal regulators will follow.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The state's flavor ban includes e-cigarettes, which have skyrocketed in popularity among teenagers. For several years around 2010, young people had largely stopped smoking. Tobacco use fell rapidly from over a third of teens to about 5%. Then the arrival and marketing of vaping reversed that. Matt Myers says tobacco flavors like strawberry cheesecake and cotton candy introduced a new generation to nicotine.

MATT MYERS: Flavors hook kids. Eighty-five percent of kids who use e-cigarettes use flavored e-cigarettes.

NOGUCHI: Myers is president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He says California's ban will hamper the tobacco industry's ability to market to young people and the Black community, which he says have been disproportionately targeted by the marketing of flavored products.

MYERS: The overwhelming size of the California vote, I think, will send a message to other states and hopefully to the Food and Drug Administration.

NOGUCHI: Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have already adopted measures like California's. The FDA is undergoing extensive review of all e-cigarette products and is requiring approval for them to remain on the market. Last month, the agency rejected its first menthol e-cigarette product. In fact, regulators all around the world are turning against flavored tobacco. The European Union, the U.K. and Canada have removed menthol from their markets. Robert Jackler is a professor at Stanford and expert on tobacco marketing. He says flavors attract children to tobacco by reducing its harsh taste, which makes it easier to become addicted to nicotine.

ROBERT JACKLER: Although there are some adults who might like cotton candy-flavored e-cigarettes - that's true - there's a major differential appeal to young people for sweet and fruity flavors.

NOGUCHI: Jackler hopes regulators will also reduce the concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes and tax them heavily to make them unaffordable for kids. California's law, which also affects menthol cigarettes, will take effect shortly after the vote is certified.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.