High school students from across the state marched to the Vermont Statehouse on Tuesday and met with lawmakers to speak out against the dangerous influence flavored tobacco has on Vermont’s kids and teens.
The members of the youth-led organization Our Voices Xposed (OVX) come to Montpelier each year to discuss the challenges youth face in staying tobacco-free in Vermont. The students - representing 17 high schools - followed the march with a rally on the steps of the Statehouse that was punctuated with speeches by OVX members Emily Dugan of Fair Haven High School, Joseph Vineyard of St. Johnsbury Academy, and Hawa Adam from Burlington High School. The student group was also introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives by So. Burlington Representative Ann Pugh, and later met with legislators, presenting displays and information about how flavored tobacco products are marketed to young Vermonters.
Based upon data from the Federal Trade Commission, the tobacco industry spends an estimated $17 million each year to market products in Vermont - with flavors like cherry, banana, chocolate, blueberry, and other candy and fruit flavors that appeal directly to kids and teens. In Vermont, more than 85 percent of tobacco retailers sell at least one of these flavored tobacco products. These products, such as individually sold cigarillos (little cigars), can cost very little to buy.
It's the enticement of the flavors that concerns Fair Haven student Emily Dugan. "My little brother is 10 years old, meaning he's impressionable. He likes 'yummy' flavors, as do so many other kids. Flavored tobacco just gives Vermont youth a reason to try it," Dugan said.
Flavors in cigarettes have been banned since 2009, but they are promoted in other tobacco products, such as cigarillos, cigars, dip, chew and e-cigarettes. According to Rhonda Williams, tobacco control chief at the Vermont Department of Health, this marketing works. "Youth consistently report flavors as the leading cause for trying e-cigarettes and cigars," said Williams. "Our data show that youth in Vermont are twice as likely as adults to say they would try a flavored tobacco product over a non-flavored one."
Williams explained that the pervasiveness of tobacco marketing that appeals to young people is one reason the Health Department is promoting its CounterBalance campaign. "CounterBalance calls attention to the dangers of flavored tobacco products, and helps educate the public and policymakers about this threat to the health and wellness of our kids and teens."
Hawa Adams, a student at Burlington High School agrees with this focus. "I am concerned about flavored tobacco because I've witnessed its impact on my close family, friends and community members. I do not wish for it to continue to deceive millions more. I do not want to see anyone else get hurt."
Learn more about tobacco use in Vermont and its health and financial toll: http://www.healthvermont.gov/wellness/tobacco
Tobacco use surveillance data: http://www.healthvermont.gov/health-statistics-vital-records/surveillance-reporting-topic/tobacco
2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey: http://www.healthvermont.gov/health-statistics-vital-records/population-health-surveys-data/youth-risk-behavior-survey-yrbs
For more information about CounterBalance: http://counterbalancevt.com/
Media Contact: Vermont Department of Health, 802-863-7281