As a public health consultant, I had the great opportunity to work with the town of Falmouth to create a plan for using best practices and policies to address opioid misuse and create environments that support young people to learn and grow into healthy, productive, resilient adults. We now have the opportunity to support a state policy change that would strengthen all of those efforts.

Many of us have witnessed the harm created by the brain disease of addiction. Opioid use disorder is a well-recognized example, but the most deadly and far-reaching addiction often arrives much earlier through nicotine. Because the brain is still developing, young people are much more susceptible to addiction. Nicotine directly impacts the reward center of the brain, priming it for future addictions. People who regularly use nicotine before the age of 18 are at much higher risk for becoming addicted to other substances later in life. Eliminating both the opportunity and the appeal of nicotine use among young people is one of the most straightforward strategies for preventing addiction.

Flavored nicotine has been used by the tobacco industry for decades to lure and hook kids and young adults, particularly young people living with toxic stress caused by poverty and/or discrimination or living with a mental illness.

Menthol is the original flavored tobacco product, with its cooling, numbing effect on the tongue and throat that makes it easier to start and harder to quit. Menthol has now been joined by thousands of candy-, fruit- and dessert-flavored nicotine products. Among young people who use tobacco, four out of five started with a flavored product.

The policy opportunity is clear. It’s time to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products to reduce early tobacco use, nicotine addiction and susceptibility to other addictions.

Liz Blackwell-Moore
Public health consultant and disease prevention specialist