Published in the August 11, 2015 edition



WAKEFIELD — Local high school students met with U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last month about the need to protect youth from currently unregulated tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes and cigars.

Nikki Bosco, 17, of Wakefield, and Steven Tran, 16, of Lawrence, were in Washington, D.C., to participate in an anti-tobacco leadership training organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Twenty-six youth advocates from 20 states participated in the Youth Advocacy Symposium, a series of skill-building workshops on leadership, advocacy and communications.

During the week, Nikki and Steven met with Sens. Markey and Warren to discuss the tobacco companies’ latest products and marketing strategies targeting youth and urge support for policies to protect America’s kids.

Youth advocates asked lawmakers to support the FDA’s efforts to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars and to reject proposals before Congress that would weaken the FDA’s authority over these products.

As cigarette smoking has fallen, tobacco companies have introduced new products that appeal to kids, including e-cigarettes and cigars in a variety of candy and fruit flavors. Cheap, small cigars that often look like cigarettes are being sold in flavors that include grape, watermelon, cherry and strawberry. E-cigarettes are available in thousands of flavors, including gummy bear and cotton candy. They’re also being marketed using the same tactics long used to promote regular cigarettes to kids, including slick magazine ads, sponsorships of concerts and auto races and celebrity endorsements.

A recent government survey shows use of e-cigarettes among U.S. high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014 (4.5 percent to 13.4 percent) and now exceeds use of regular cigarettes. The survey also found high school boys now smoke cigars at the same rate as cigarettes (10.8 percent for cigars and 10.6 percent for cigarettes).

The FDA is finalizing regulations for these products. However, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has approved a proposal that would restrict the FDA’s authority to review e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market. Health advocates are urging Congress to reject this proposal.

Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing over 480,000 people and costing about $170 billion in health care bills each year.

Currently 10.7 percent of Massachusetts’s high school students smoke. Furthermore, tobacco use claims 9,300 lives in the state and costs $4.08 billion in health care bills each year.

“These young leaders are helping make the next generation tobacco-free,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “They speak from experience about tobacco products and marketing that target youth. Elected leaders should stand with them and support strong action to protect our nation’s children from tobacco addiction.”