NEW ORLEANS — This week, more than 2,000 tobacco control and public health professionals are in New Orleans for the three-day National Conference on Tobacco or Health. Hosted by the National Network of Public Health Institutes, directed by a steering committee made up of tobacco control and public health organizations, attendees are sharing best practices and policies to reduce commercial tobacco use across the country. Participants, including many from the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (a program of the Louisiana Public Health Institute and Louisiana Cancer Research Center), have a few new national wins to celebrate.
On June 21, the Biden Administration announced plans to develop a rule requiring tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes sold in the U.S. to minimally or non-addictive levels. This is in addition to the menthol ban that was announced by the FDA in April, and it demonstrates their strong commitment to reducing health disparities resulting from menthol use. Lowering nicotine levels and banning menthol, which has historically been marketed to the Black community in a predatory manner, are two significant moves that can reduce smoke-related deaths and incidents of lung cancer. Tobacco use causes more than 480,000 deaths annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shortly thereafter, the FDA ordered JUUL Labs Inc. to stop selling e-cigarettes (vapes) on the U.S. market. JUUL is one of the leading e-cigarette brands used by young adults. E-cigarettes are the leading product that initiates youth into using commercial tobacco products and has created a new generation of tobacco users, many of whom don’t realize nicotine is an ingredient in these products. According to the 2019 Louisiana Youth Tobacco Survey, cigarette use has decreased by a third among high school students from 2015 to 2019 (from 18% in 2015 to 12% in 2019) but e-cigarette use has tripled among both middle and high school students during the same time period (Middle School: 5% in 2015 to 15% in 2019; High School: 9% in 2015 to 32% in 2019).
These collective national efforts, coupled with efforts at the local level, can help move us towards a generation of non-smokers and a healthier Louisiana, especially as it relates to young and Black Louisianans. I look forward to celebrating these wins during the National Conference and sharing information on the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living’s unique approaches to protecting our communities from the dangerous effects of commercial tobacco products and connecting those who want to quit to resources like Quit With Us, Louisiana and 1-800-QUITNOW.
Shelina Davis is the CEO of the Louisiana Public Health Institute. Earl “Nupsius” Benjamin Robinson is the director of Tobacco Control & Prevention for the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and Louisiana Public Health Institute.