The introduction of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes as well as youth-targeted marketing has threatened to undo nearly two decades of steady progress in reducing child and teen tobacco use. Between 2017 and 2019, e-cigarette use more than doubled among high school students and tripled among middle school students with an estimated 5.3 million children and teens using e-cigarettes now. Nearly all of these youth (97 percent) use flavored products and more than two-thirds (70 percent) cite attractive flavors as their primary motivation for using them. Despite being portrayed primarily as a way to reduce cigarette smoking, it has become clear that e-cigarettes often introduce young people to nicotine and tobacco use: between 2017 and 2019, e-cigarette use drove a 59 percent increase in the use of traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products among high school students.
E-cigarettes and tobacco products have uniquely devastating impacts on children and teens. Early exposure to nicotine can have lasting effects on brain development and reduce attention, learning, and memory. Tobacco is even more dangerous. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans each year and costing our nation $170 billion in health care costs annually. If smoking rates continue unabated, an estimated 5.6 million children alive today will die from tobacco use or exposure.
The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to support the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 in the fight against this concerning trend. The bill contains critical provisions to reduce children’s use of flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products as well as improve overall public health, including a prohibition on all flavored products driving increased tobacco use among young people and limitations on predatory marketing targeting children and teens. Most importantly, it will protect millions of children and decades of progress.