By State Representative Mandela Barnes
You have probably seen them on the counter of your local convenience store.
Vanilla. Chocolate. Cotton Candy. Grape. Strawberry. Peach.
The flavored ‘blunts’ sound more like a birthday cake than a product designed to entice young people into a lifetime of dependence and dysfunction! Seemingly harmless, these ‘blunt wrappers’ point to a much larger concern in our community.
In the past, blunts were a type of cigar with a tapered or pointed tip. Now, however, blunts or blunt wrappers refer to a cigar in which the loose tobacco is separate from the brown, often flavored tobacco leaf rolling paper. It’s no surprise that these blunt wrap products are a nod to drug paraphernalia and that youth may often mix or replace the tobacco with drugs: usually marijuana, crack cocaine or PCPs.
The attractively-flavored smoking products are usually cheaper and touted as ‘safer’ than regular tobacco products – an easy sell to youth who are short on cash and looking for alternatives. Tobacco companies have been quick to take advantage of the lack of widespread attention paid to this issue in ways that makes this practice flourish among young people. The fact that these flavored blunts are often used explicitly for drug use, is a disturbing association that demands our attention.
And while it’s often easy to see the connection between drugs and life outcomes, the accompanying relationship between tobacco products and drug use among both youth and adults has largely been ignored. It has been ignored, despite the fact that the estimated effort of implementing any action on tobacco products used for drug paraphernalia is a far cry from the millions of dollars it costs to treat drug and tobacco related addictions and associated negative impacts. In fact, studies have shown that the vast majority of Americans who begin daily smoking during adolescence are addicted to nicotine by young adulthood, costing the nation $96 billion in direct medical costs.
Focusing on the sale of tobacco products commonly used for drug paraphernalia is a critical link to the larger issues at hand, and several states have already taken action to curb the sales of blunts.
o In August of last year, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and cigar wraps, except for those flavored with menthol. The bill was pushed by Illinois State Rep. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) who stated the case perfectly: “The wide availability of illegal drugs to our children and youth is a scourge afflicting communities throughout the state of Illinois. It’s vital that our laws keep pace with the many forms of delivery and marketing of drugs to our children.”
o In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed legislation that banned the sale of tobacco papers and other drug paraphernalia to minors. The bill also prohibits sale of blunts, cigarillos and tiparillos to minors.
o The District of Columbia has outlawed the sale of tobacco wrapping papers used to roll cigars and blunts. A tobacco company sued challenging the constitutionality of the law, but the suit was dismissed in court, permitting the law to stay on the books.
Clearly, tobacco products marketed toward youth – particularly in urban areas- is a national problem. And it’s a problem that affects Milwaukee youth in particular, as compared to the rest of the state. If the use of blunt wrappers diminishes, it can curb young people from developing an addiction to nicotine and it can make use of drugs more difficult by removing another tempting invitation.
This is why the work of the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is critical to our community: it places a high priority on tobacco education and works to address tobacco-related disparities.
Their work in our community is vital to keeping kids from ever starting these products. Bolstering support for tobacco control is not only a link to better health in the Badger State; it’s a smart economic move because it pays for itself. For each dollar invested, about $3.60 is saved in tobacco-caused healthcare costs.
We know what works to prevent drug and tobacco use among young people. By strengthening and continuing to build upon effective policies and programs, we can help future generations of youth to be healthier, stronger and substance abuse free.