Rhode Island may be the smallest state but we do big things. We are trendsetters in the Tobacco Control Movement. Rhode Island has the second highest cigarette excise tax, the third lowest youth smoking rate and now, our capital city has put Rhode Island on the map once again.
Providence has made major history in the fight against the tobacco industry. Providence has put Rhode Island on the map. In a landmark decision handed down recently, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Providence’s anti-tobacco laws prohibiting the sale of fruit-flavored tobacco products and eliminating the use of promotional discounting strategies usually aimed at kids, such as buy-one, get-one.
Thanks to a grassroots network of organizations that includes Tobacco Free Providence, the Providence Mayor’s Substance Abuse Prevention Council and the City of Providence Healthy Communities Office, fewer youth will have access to the deluge of new candy-flavored and inexpensive tobacco products.
Flavored cigars, in particular, have exploded in popularity among our kids. National surveys show high-school students are twice as likely as adults to report smoking cigars in the past month, and young adults (ages 18-24) smoke cigars at even higher rates (15.9 percent).
Despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on flavored cigarettes in 2009, the tobacco industry continued to market sweet-flavored products to attract teenagers. Flavored cigarettes were simply modified to fit the legal definition of “cigars” by adding a tobacco leaf wrapper. Dissolvable forms of tobacco make it easier to conceal its use. All of these products, despite their colorful and attractive labels, threaten the public’s health.
Knowing that a high price tag also helps keep tobacco products out of the hands of kids, Providence commendably went a step further. Eliminating price promotions, such as the use of coupons, will keep prices high and Providence teenagers from becoming replacements for the tobacco industry’s dying customers. The 2000 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, “Reducing Tobacco Use,” found that raising tobacco-product prices decreases the prevalence of tobacco use, particularly among kids and young adults with limited financial means.
The court’s decision has national significance. The ruling allows for similar laws to be passed in other cities, towns, and states. It is an important victory in the fight against a Goliath-sized enemy and paves the way for our struggle against binge drinking, gun violence, and diabetes and heart disease caused by poor nutrition and inadequate exercise. We can improve people’s health and strengthen our democracy even in the face of big marketing and expensive lawyers.
I commend Providence, the organizations that fought for the passage of these laws and the community that supported it. There is still much work to be done across the state at the retail point of sale and also on an environmental level.
Promoting smoke-free public places, such as beaches, parks, recreational areas and college campuses, reduces secondhand-smoke exposure and makes it more difficult to find places to smoke. I encourage all Rhode Island cities and towns to learn more about the benefits of healthy policy changes at the local level.