Yes on Proposition 31: Banning flavored tobacco products

Lucy Sullivan, Opinions Editor

Art by Ella Jiang.

This fall will be my first time voting, so naturally, when I received my ballot, I scanned over the initiatives. A few caught my eye, but one that I noticed that had not been getting as much publicity as others was Proposition 31, which would ban most flavored tobacco products in California. This ban would include flavored cigarettes, certain cigars, and most important to high school students: flavored Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), or e-cigarettes. Proposition 31 would still allow hookah, certain flavored cigars, and flavored loose-leaf tobacco (chewing tobacco) to be sold.

Since the 1980s, the rate of tobacco usage in America steadily declined for about 30 years. Everything changed when e-cigarettes hit the market. The e-cigarette was first invented in 2003, but was popularized in 2014. By 2016, the year that our current seniors began sixth grade, Juuls had been around for a year and were beginning to infiltrate middle schools. 

They became pervasive. I vividly remember seeing Juuls being pulled out of leggings, pencil cases, tampon wrappers—anything you could imagine. We all viciously made fun of the “Escape the Vape” posters hung up around Mesa Verde’s campus, but the vast majority of people I know who began vaping in middle school still do it to this day. At the ages of 17 and 18, they have poured hundreds of dollars and most of their lung capacities into their addictions. Many have expressed to me a desire to quit.

The problem is that flavored tobacco is so heavily advertised to young people, even if it may be covert. Few people my age would want to smoke a smelly cigarette, or vape from a clunky, light-saber shaped e-cigarette circa 2007. But sleek, colorful, perfumed sticks—those are a bit more appealing. Flavors like blue raspberry, honey, watermelon ice, and mango appeal more to younger crowds, and we all know that when it comes to tobacco, when you’re in, you’re in.  

According to a 2020 CDC report, “19.6% of high school students (3.02 million) and 4.7% of middle school students (550,000) reported current e-cigarette use. Among current e-cigarette users, 38.9% of high school students and 20% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes on 20 or more of the past 30 days; 22.5% of high school users and 9.4% of middle school users reported daily use. 82.9% used flavored e-cigarettes.”

Though there has not been enough time since the invention of e-cigarettes to accurately assess their long-term harm, we know one thing to be true: they are not a “healthy alternative” for smoking conventional cigarettes. 

There have already been reported cases of popcorn lung, heart failure, and other various ailments resulting from e-cigarette use.

Just as e-cigarettes were introduced as we were coming into adolescence, our generation will be the ones left to manage the health consequences of vaping. I am not generally a prohibitionist, but I see absolutely nothing to be gained from using tobacco, especially so young. Eliminating flavored options is one step in the direction of getting tobacco out of middle and high schools. 

I urge you to vote yes on Proposition 31, to protect our younger siblings and loved ones from the evil machine that is Big Tobacco.