Stop Big Tobacco’s kids menu

A high school student argues that the industry is trying to hook young people with flavored “starter kits”

  • Kyla Browne speaks at a recent press conference about the importance of protecting youth from the dangers of flavored tobacco products and candy-flavored electronic cigarettes. Photo: Lisa Spitzner

The tobacco industry has a kids menu. Death, disease and addiction now come in new imaginative electronic cigarette flavors like sour candy worms, unicorn milk, and smurf cake. It is no surprise that these companies are tapping into the imaginations of youth and luring them into a candy-coated addiction. Flavors help improve the taste and reduce the harshness of these products, making them more appealing and easier for youth, like me, to try the product and become hooked for life.

My friends who use electronic cigarettes are struggling. It’s not easy for them to stop. Their body craves it and they need it just to get through the day. The growing use of electronic-cigarettes among my peers raises serious concerns about nicotine addiction, and increases the chances of them using regular cigarettes.

Electronic-cigarette companies are using many of the same strategies that tobacco companies have used for years. The tobacco industry knows that flavors are most effective in reaching kids and the most dangerous flavor they have in their arsenal is menthol.

No single flavor contributes more to the death and disease caused by tobacco use than menthol. For decades the tobacco industry has been targeting people that look just like me. Eighty-five percent of African American smokers in NYC use menthol cigarettes. This is not a coincidence. For years, the tobacco industry has heavily targeted people in my community. They have used advertising images and messages that reflect my culture to make smoking look normal. In my own family, I have seen firsthand the death and destruction that tobacco causes through heart disease, cancer and more.

Menthol tobacco products are also key in the tobacco industry’s ruthless strategy to transform children into addicted tobacco users. The minty cool flavor makes smoking easier and right now 57% of menthol users are youth. It’s time to stop Big Tobacco’s predatory attempts to hook kids with flavored “starter kits.”

Addiction is never sweet or cool. Something I have learned in school is that history repeats itself and we can’t afford to wait in taking action on these issues. I hope that we will be able to put these things into perspective and work towards a healthier environment for our future generations.

Kyla Browne is a student at The Urban Assembly School of Green Careers on the Upper West Side.

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