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What A Ban On Flavored Tobacco Products Could Mean For Phoenix Teens

By Mark Brodie
Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 1:56pm
Updated: Thursday, October 15, 2020 - 7:08am

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MARK BRODIE: A subcommittee of the Phoenix City Council today is considering a proposal to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city. Supporters say it'd help curb the use of e-cigarettes, especially among younger residents. A study from the CDC released in August shows around 33% of high schoolers last year said they currently used e-cigarettes around the country. In Arizona, that number was 18%. Brian Hummell is the Arizona director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network — that's the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society. He joins me to talk more about this. And Brian, how big of a step is it when a city moves to ban flavored tobacco products?

BRIAN HUMMELL: Yeah, well, we think preventing the sale of flavored tobacco is really the next step in the arsenal of tobacco regulation. So we know that tobacco taxes are the best way — we do that at the state level in Arizona; local jurisdictions are preempted from doing so. Then we have smoke-free laws, which Arizona has been sort of on the forefront of, and we passed the statewide Smoke-Free law in 2006. And then we have other things that we can do. So things like tobacco retail licensing, which we've done in a couple of jurisdictions and would intend to do as part of this. Flavored tobacco, increasing the age to 21 — which was set at the federal level. Those are all important tools. Preventing tobacco flavors is incredibly important. I am reminded of a quote from a CDC official who says basically, advertising brings kids to the product, flavors are what entice them to try and then nicotine hooks them, usually for life.

BRODIE: In a city like Phoenix, you mentioned some of the other tobacco related measures that the city and the state have taken. How much of a dent in the problem of young adults and kids using these products could a ban like this have, do you think?

HUMMELL: So we know that in all of the surveys that are done, kids talk about their attraction to the product because of flavors. They almost always use flavors as the starting point of why they got into it in the first place. And when you look at the types of flavors that are available to kids — fruity flavors, bubble gum, Captain Crunch, mint and menthol — all of which sort of soothe the intake of what is typically a harsh burn on your system. We know that those things attract kids, and that's what kids say in surveys.

BRODIE: Would it be better to do this on a statewide level as opposed to doing it — I mean, Phoenix is obviously the biggest city in the state, but, you know, you can go to any nearby city and theoretically buy these products and still use them in Phoenix. Would it be better to ban them statewide?

HUMMELL: We think that it's important to do this at any level. Local jurisdictions, as we are seeing more and more, it's really important that a local jurisdiction be able to respond to a health situation. We see incredibly strong support from Phoenix residents for this type of regulation on tobacco.

BRODIE: But I guess, would it maybe have more impact if, for example, Phoenix residents couldn't just go to Scottsdale or Tempe or Glendale to get these products if they were banned even throughout the county or throughout the state?

HUMMELL: Sure. We see very little movement among people — especially young people — to go find another source for tobacco products. The idea of the borders that are set up amongst municipalities is very unlikely. We saw this during smoke-free, where many local jurisdictions did smoke-free prior to the state doing it. Usually what happens in the tobacco regulation field is that the state finally picks it up after multiple jurisdictions do so. But we did not see, for example, restaurants closed as a result of, of not being able to smoke while you're eating a meal. As a matter of fact, most restaurants have benefited from that. So there is very little evidence to suggest that especially young people are going to migrate to a different locality to try to pick up a tobacco product.

BRODIE: There's been some amount of talk in the public health and sort of the tobacco prevention worlds over the last few years about how there had been a lot of progress made in terms of reducing the number of kids who are smoking, and that a lot of that progress was lost with e-cigarettes and vaping products, things like that. Is a ban like this something that you think can bring the numbers back to where they were when people were celebrating how good those kinds of numbers were?

HUMMELL: Yeah, we're certainly hopeful that that will be the case around reducing the attraction of youth to tobacco products.

BRODIE: What is the best kind of enforcement mechanism for a rule like this, do you think?

HUMMELL: Well, there's no doubt that if we had a tobacco retail license, that would be the easiest way to do it. We want to make sure that the enforcement happens at the store level, that it's not on the purchaser. But we know if we had a tobacco retail license, that would solve, frankly, a significant number of issues around tobacco enforcement, including young people getting their hands on the product at all in the first place.

BRODIE: Meaning that stores that sell tobacco products would have to follow certain rules, including not selling — if this ordinance went into effect — not selling flavored tobacco products to kids?

HUMMELL: That's 100% correct. If there were a license, and after a certain number of violations over a certain period of time, that particular store continued to sell — whether it was selling flavored tobacco products, selling to young people — that ultimately the ability of that store to sell tobacco products at all would be either suspended or revoked, ultimately, if there were multiple violations.

BRODIE: All right, that is Brian Hummell with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Brian, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

HUMMELL: It's been my pleasure, Mark.

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