Teen tobacco use is at a staggering high in our state: 33% of Maine high school students use tobacco products, disproportionately affecting marginalized populations, including low-income communities, LGBTQ individuals and racial and ethnic minorities.

We know that flavored tobacco products are highly addictive, incredibly toxic and hook our kids based on years of scientific research. But many don’t realize that tobacco companies have a long documented history of aggressively targeting the African-American community.

The most staggering example of strategic tobacco marketing is menthol cigarettes. Currently, 89% of African-American smokers use menthol-flavored cigarettes. Designed to ease the use of smoking, menthol flavors numb the throat and hide tobacco’s harsh taste, giving a false sense that the product is “gentler” than traditional cigarettes but, in reality, just as deadly.

For decades, tobacco companies have appropriated the African-American culture in their ad campaigns, targeting direct mail promotions, sponsored festivities and events associated with Black History Month. They bombard Black neighborhoods with advertising at a rate 10 times that of any other community. A 2013 study found that African-American children were three times more likely to recognize an advertisement for Newport menthol cigarettes than any other children. It is clear to see that tobacco companies are ruthlessly hooking African Americans, especially youth, with their tactics.

We must protect all children from tobacco addiction and subsequent life of illness and lung-related diseases. Recently the cities of Bangor and Portland have said “no more” to the sale of flavored tobacco products, showing that hope is on the horizon. However, more can be done! Contact Gov. Mills today and tell her to include the end of flavored tobacco products in the supplemental budget plan, ending the sale of flavored tobacco statewide.

Hannah Qiu

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