The Politics and Use of Flavored Tobacco
by David Conde
I filled up the tank of my car a day ago and it was not pretty. Gasoline prices are skyrocketing and there seems to be no end in sight.
The country is deciding to make less use of fossil fuels and, at least in the short term, is paying the consequences. It is ironic to see the United States pressuring the Arab-led petroleum cartel to increase its oil availability at the percent same time that we are discouraging its production in America because of what it does to the environment and climate.
Although the increase in the development of non-contaminating energy has been rapid, in the short-term, it is not sufficient to offset our needs. The law of supply and demand is taking over and we must endure the results for the time being.
The United States and a large part of the developed world have made a long-term commitment to change the way we produce and consume energy in order to save the future of the globe. Short-term sacrifices are to be expected.
We did the same thing with respect to cigarette smoking and have done very well over the years. It was a long-term effort and a long-term success. The Denver City Council is considering an initiative to do away with the sale of flavored tobacco in stores within its city limits. This appears as a well-intended “quick” solution that may not be as well thought out as it could or should be.
The long campaign to stop smoking has been a special success among the youth as high school students rates between 2000 and 2017 went down from 28 percent to 7.6 percent and indications are that it dropped further to 2.8 percent in 2019. That hard-won success has been a long time in coming and has taken a lot of work and patience involving decades.
That historic victory cannot be jeopardized in favor of some short-term gain in the flavored tobacco area. This is what may very well happen if the Denver City Council, in isolation, follows through on a vote to ban the sale of flavored tobacco. A study by the University of Memphis determined that when the San Francisco did this, the 18-24 age group in the city increased cigarette smoking by 35 percent . Another study of the San Francisco’s decision by Yale showed that smoking increased from 4.7 percent in 2017 to 6.2 percent in 2019 which was a year after the mandate.
A third study done this year by George Washington University involved 6 metropolitan areas and indicates that a prohibition of this type would likely result in a 37.2 percent switch to cigarettes. It is clear that a decision to precipitously prohibit flavored tobacco would put in danger the very victory against smoking that took decades to achieve.
Further, consumers of these types of products are 3 miles or less from a store in another jurisdiction like Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe and Douglas County where they can buy them. What happens to the jobs of the mostly immigrants that work at these shops and gas stations if their customers can go down the street and get what they need?
Smoking is an issue that has and is taking a long time to resolve. We cannot afford to put policies into place that may undo some or all of that progress. While banning flavored tobacco may be well intended, it should not be done piecemeal or for short-term success. It also should not impact small businesses in an arbitrary way.