65 Youth Organizations Pledge to Raise Awareness About the Dangers of Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored E-cigarettes

Tomorrow, the Health Department will host the first of two free community events where youth can learn about the harms of menthol and e-cigarettes through games, music, spoken word, healthy snacks, and giveaways. Participants are encouraged to post on social media using the hashtag #DontGetHookedNYC

Half of New Yorkers who smoke use menthol cigarettes; 1 in 15 middle school students and 1 in 6 public high school students in New York City currently use e-cigarettes

A poster describing the truth about e-cigarettes and vaping. It shows several e-cigarettes, with smoke coming out of them in the shape of skulls.

October 18, 2019 — The Health Department today announced that 65 organizations that serve youth pledged to raise awareness about the dangers of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes. As part of the campaign, Defeat Flavors and End Nicotine Dependence (DEFEND), organizations signed a pledge (PDF) to raise awareness about the issue by displaying the Truth About E-Cigarettes poster (PDF); hosting a community forum about the dangers of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes; or collecting and sharing personal stories about the negative effects of flavored products in the community.

“The tobacco industry designed menthol cigarettes to hook young people on tobacco, and now they’re doing the same thing with e-cigarettes,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “E-cigarettes put teens at risk of addiction to nicotine and expose them to dangerous chemicals. We cannot stand by while Big Tobacco hooks a new generation on nicotine through targeted advertising and enticing flavors. We must rid the marketplace of flavored nicotine like bubblegum, mango, mint and menthol, once and for all.”

“As Big Tobacco continues to use flavored products to target young people, another generation is at risk of becoming addicted to tobacco,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “This is a matter of health justice for our families, our loved ones, and our children. I am grateful to stand with these organizations as we work to make our city a healthier place to live — for all New Yorkers, and for future generations.”

A poster describing how the tobacco industry benefits from menthol cigarette sales. It shows a bag with a dollar sign at the top.

Tomorrow, the Health Department will host the first of two free community events where youth can learn about the harms of menthol and e-cigarettes through games, healthy snacks, and giveaways. The event will feature music by Power 105.1 radio personality DJ Whutever and spoken word performances by 2019 NYC Youth Poet Laureate Camryn Bruno, Def Jam poet and singer Shanelle Gabriel, and youth poet ambassadors from Urban Word NYC. Participants are encouraged to post on social media using the hashtag #DontGetHookedNYC. Tomorrow’s event is at Banneker Playground in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. A second event will take place at Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem, New York on Saturday, October 26 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Organizations that signed the pledge to raise awareness about e-cigarettes received the DEFEND toolkit. The toolkit includes educational activities such as a menthol and e-cigarette-themed Jeopardy game, a gallery wall of historic tobacco advertising, and a workshop where youth can develop their own marketing campaigns in opposition to menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.

“Companies have long used flavored products to hook our youth on things that make them less healthy. We know that flavored tobacco products are no different; they can dramatically increase children's risk of life-threatening illnesses. We must ensure the well-being of our young people, which is why I thank the Department of Health and Commissioner Barbot for their leadership on holding these community events, so all people can be educated on the potential dangers of these products,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

“We need to get all flavored tobacco and vaping products out of our schools and out of the hands of underage users,” said City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine. “Right now, e-cigarettes are using these flavored products to trap our city’s students in lifelong addiction, and putting them at risk of severe health complications. Our youth are being targeted by these companies, and if we don’t put a stop to it, the epidemic of teen vaping and vape related illnesses will only get worse. It is so encouraging to see youth organizations take a stand against these companies and show that they are taking a leadership role in raising awareness of how dangerous these products are to their fellow students. Their efforts will resonate and empower students across the city to fight back against the tobacco companies who are actively trying to take advantage of their friends and classmates.”

“Half of youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes and over 80% of teens who have used tobacco started with a flavored product. The Flavors Hook Kids NYC Campaign applauds the Department of Health’s efforts to educate New Yorkers on the dangers of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes. It’s time we restrict the sale of these dangerous products," said Andre M. Richardson, Campaign Manager of the Flavors Hook Kids NYC Campaign.

“The popularity of menthol cigarettes and e-cigarettes has grown unchecked thanks to Big Tobacco’s efforts to prevent much needed regulation of these dangerous products,” said Lisa David, President and CEO at Public Health Solutions. “As a result, a new generation of young people is now hooked on nicotine. New York City has been a long-time leader on tobacco-use prevention, and it’s time to set a national example by banning these highly addictive menthol products.”

“Flatbush Development Corporation was honored to have been chosen as one of the agencies to pilot the Department of Health’s DEFEND community outreach project to educate New York teens and young adults about the harms of flavored tobacco and vaping products. We are gratified to see this work culminate with today’s #DontGetHookedNYC community campaign event,” said Flatbush Development Corporation’s Youth Director Massiel Felix. “In light of all of the media surrounding accidents and deaths related to vaping, we feel as though we were given the opportunity to get ahead of the issue locally via the information we were able disseminate to our community via this timely effort that was created and funded by the NYC Health Department.”

“The feeling of vaping can be temporary, but the effects are long term,” said Zemirah Hughes, peer educator at The Door Adolescent Health Center. “Young people should just say no to e-products.”

Earlier this month, the Health Department also announced a new media campaign to educate teens about the dangers of e-cigarettes. The $300,000 campaign will run on digital platforms—including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Hulu, Facebook, and Google search—in English and Spanish through the end of the year.

Community organizations that signed the pledge:

  1. Arab American Family Support Center
  2. Astor Services for Children & Families
  3. BMS Family Health Center (Jefferson Campus)
  4. BronxConnect
  5. Bronx Adolescent Skills Center (Vibrant Emotional Health)
  6. Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center
  7. Brooklyn Community Pride Center
  8. Brooklyn Community Services
  9. CAMBA’s Project Accept LGBT Youth (Project ALY)
  10. Carnegie Hill Pediatrics (Dr. Barry Stein)
  11. Claremont Healthy Village Initiative (Family Medicine)
  12. Children’s Aid (Bronx Family Center Campus)
  13. Children’s Aid (Program Administrative Offices)
  14. Chinese American Planning Council
  15. Christ Prophetic House
  16. Claremont Neighborhoods Centers, Inc.
  17. Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
  18. College of Staten Island (CUNY) Health Center
  19. Covenant House
  20. Destination Tomorrow-Bronx LGBT Center
  21. Diaspora Community Services
  22. DREAM Charter School (formerly Harlem RBI)
  23. Educational Alliance (Edgies Teen Center)
  24. Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities
  25. El Puente
  26. Esperanza Preparatory Academy (Union Settlement)
  27. Flatbush Development Corporation
  28. Fiver Children’s Foundation
  29. Grand Street Settlement
  30. Groundswell NYC
  31. Herunivercity
  32. Ibadur Rahman Association Inc.
  33. Jewish Community Center of Staten Island (Bernikow)
  1. Journey to Wellness Center
  2. Korean Community Services
  3. Little Flock House of Prayer
  4. Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center
  5. MS 007 (Union Settlement)
  6. National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Big Sister Education Action Center
  7. New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth
  8. New Life Community Health Center
  9. New York City Mission Society
  10. New York City Problem Gambling Resource
  11. New York Public Interest Research Group
  12. Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation
  13. Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation
  14. P.S. 138 (Union Settlement)
  15. Queens Pride House
  16. Richmond University Medical Center WIC Program
  17. Rising Stars (Union Settlement)
  18. Rockaway Youth Task Force
  19. Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness
  20. Staten Island University Hospital’s Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Program and School Health Program
  21. Soundview Resident Council
  22. Teens Helping Each Other (THEO at SUNY Downstate)
  23. The Door
  24. The Dream Center Harlem
  25. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
  27. Thrive Collective
  28. Washington Houses Community Center (Union Settlement)
  29. Wildlife Conservation Society Future Leaders Program
  30. Word of Life International
  31. Worldwide Association of Small Churches

In New York City, half of New Yorkers who smoke use menthol cigarettes. In addition, more than half of middle and high school students who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Like regular cigarettes, menthol cigarettes kill up to half of people who use them long-term. Smoking can cause over 10 types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other diseases.

The dangers of e-cigarettes to youth are considerable. Nicotine can change the chemistry of the teen brain, worsening memory and concentration. Studies show that adolescents may be more susceptible to developing nicotine dependence than adults. One pod of a popular e-cigarette, Juul, can contain as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. Vaping products can also contain toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde and benzene, which can cause cancer, or heavy metals, like nickel, tin and lead. In New York City, 1 in 6 public high school students (nearly 45,000 students, or 17.3%) and 1 in 15 public middle school students (about 13,000 students, or 6.7%) reported using e-cigarettes in the past month, according to surveys completed in 2017 and 2018, respectively. However, only 2.5% of adults vape in New York City.

The U.S. currently faces an alarming epidemic in reported cases of vaping-related lung injury, with more than 1,479 cases and 33 deaths. While many of these cases seem to involve vaping cannabis products, no single substance, chemical or type of product has been linked to every case.

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration banned flavors in cigarettes because of how dangerous they are for youth. However, menthol was excluded. Currently, no flavors are banned in e-cigarettes federally.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced a lawsuit against 22 national online e-cigarette vendors for selling their products to underage New Yorkers in an effort to combat the surging use of e-cigarettes by minors. The complaint alleges the online retailers don’t have age verification systems in place and market their addictive goods to minors in violation of City law.

Like e-cigarettes, menthol has long been used to make nicotine products seem less dangerous. Since the 1950s, tobacco companies have sold traditional cigarettes flavored with menthol to mask the harshness of tobacco and make a product that is easier for new users, like youth, to tolerate. In 2018, about half (49%) of New Yorkers who smoked usually smoked menthol cigarettes. Menthol use was also higher among certain demographics: 84% among Black adults who smoke, 60% among Latino adults who smoke, 59% among women who smoke, and 70% among Bronx residents who smoke. In addition, more than half of New York City middle and high school students who smoked used menthol cigarettes. Menthol has been found to increase signs of nicotine dependence among youth and can be associated with less successful quit attempts.

New York City has adopted various laws to prevent and reduce the use of e-cigarettes, including banning the sale of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 21 and prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in all places where smoking is illegal – for example, residential common areas, restaurants, sports arenas and workplaces. In 2018, a mandatory new license for retailers selling e-cigarettes went into effect, along with a cap on the total number of available e-cigarette licenses in each community district.

The Health Department, in partnership with the Department of Education, has developed guidance for principals and other school staff on e-cigarettes and vaping, including new information they can share with families and staff on the recent outbreak of lung injury associated with vaping (PDF) and educational materials for all New York City public school children and parents:

Tobacco, drug and alcohol use prevention is part of comprehensive health education and is included in the Department of Education’s recommended curriculum to help students learn skills related to decision-making, self-advocacy and peer influences. The Office of Counseling Support Programs, through its Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists program, also provides a range of prevention and intervention services in grades K through 12.

Tips to Make Quitting Easier

  • Find your reasons. Make a list of your reasons for quitting and read it often.
  • Pick a quit date. Choose a day that works for you and gives you time to prepare. Throw out all of your cigarettes beforehand, and get rid of ashtrays and lighters.
  • Get support and encouragement. Tell your family, friends and coworkers that you are quitting and ask for their support.
  • Notice and avoid what triggers cravings. Alcohol, coffee, stress, and being around others who smoke can all trigger cravings. Notice what makes you feel like smoking so that you can avoid those situations, change your routine, and have a plan to deal with your triggers.

Don’t Give Up

  • It takes almost everyone multiple tries before they quit smoking for good. If you start smoking again, don’t be discouraged — try again!
  • You haven’t failed — you have learned about the triggers and situations that make you want to smoke. Now you can try to avoid those triggers or change your routine.
  • It’s never too late to quit. Quitting smoking will improve your health no matter how old you are or how long you have smoked. Throw out your cigarettes and start again.

Tips for Parents

  • Learn about e-cigarettes and the different types of products young people are using.
  • Ask your child what they have heard about vaping and if any of their friends are vaping.
  • Answer questions and talk about the risks of using e-cigarettes.
  • Encourage an open, ongoing conversation.
  • Avoid criticizing your child, but explain your concerns about vaping.
  • Set a positive example by keeping your home smoke- and vape-free.

For additional resources, including health information, advice for parents, details about local laws, and guidance for clinicians, visit nyc.gov and search “flavored tobacco.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Patrick Gallahue/Stephanie Buhle, (347) 396-4177