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Campaign against flavored tobacco launches downstate, signals statewide effort

A new effort aimed at reducing minors' use of flavored tobacco products downstate could also be expanding to the Rochester area and across New York.

The Flavors Hook Kids campaign is part of an effort to inform young people that flavored tobacco products are addictive and can hurt their health.

The effort to ban those products in New York City officially launched Wednesday, but the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network has also begun a push in Albany to ban those products statewide.

Monroe County public health department spokesperson Ryan Horey said a statewide ban would be a welcome change. His department has been trying to deter youth use of tobacco — and flavored e-cigarettes in particular — for years.

Those local efforts have stepped up in recent months, with county public health commissioner Michael Mendoza speaking regularly at schools about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

“I think a lot of times when kids hear about ‘don’t do drugs’ messages, a lot of it comes from law enforcement and, like, the criminal consequences of things,” Horey said. “Our perspective is really protecting people’s health, and letting them know that e-cigarettes are not safe.”

Horey said many flavored e-cigarettes contain high doses of nicotine and are extremely addictive — but they don’t feel as harsh as traditional cigarettes. That’s particularly dangerous, he said, because they’re targeted specifically at children.

Horey pointed to data collected by the public health department showing that more than twice as many Monroe County youths had used e-cigarettes than had used traditional cigarettes – 30% compared to 14%. And he expects the rate of e-cigarette use among minors will continue to grow in the near future.

Juul, the leading maker of flavored e-cigarettes, has said its marketing is directed toward adult smokers only, and its products aren’t intended for young people. But Horey said that’s not what he’s seen.

“These companies were extremely social media savvy,” Horey said. “They knew where their audience was, and they knew how to reach them. This didn’t happen by accident.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.