New York recently joined a growing number of states in enacting a Tobacco 21 law. Thanks to the work of the public health community and smart policy efforts such as Tobacco 21, we have seen a decline in tobacco use over the past two decades.

This all sounds great except when you take a closer look you will see that despite this progress, youth smoking levels are rising for the first time in years. Youth use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, has skyrocketed.

The primary reason for this spike in tobacco use is simple: flavors.

Flavors entice kids to begin using tobacco products. With flavors like cotton candy, coco puff and fruity pebbles, it isn’t surprising that we have seen such a surge in youth tobacco use. The numbers don’t lie. In New York, the rates are continuing to climb as 27 percent of New York high school students are now using e-cigarettes.

Tobacco 21 is a great first step to help protect kids, but we know tobacco companies aren’t going to stop with their marketing gimmicks aimed at young people. One of their oldest tricks is adding flavors, most notably menthol, to mask the harshness of tobacco. The anesthetizing effect of menthol makes it easier to inhale and masks the harsh taste of tobacco, making it more appealing to new users. A report by the Food and Drug Administration found those who begin smoking menthol cigarettes are more likely to progress to regular smoking and have a higher level of nicotine dependence than those who begin with non-menthol cigarettes.

In addition, more and more youth report using menthol tobacco products. According to CDC’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey results over 50 percent of high school students that use e-cigarettes used mint or menthol flavored e-cigarettes.

I applaud the governor and state lawmakers for enacting Tobacco 21. I now urge lawmakers and the governor to save lives and protect the health of all New Yorkers by taking an even stronger stand against Big Tobacco by restricting the sale of all flavored tobacco products.

Joan Farmer is a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. She lives in Yorkville.