Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C., came to Providence on Aug. 20 to attend a rally at Burnside Park in support the new city ordinance banning flavored smokeless tobacco products and flavored cigars being sold to kids.
The new city ordinances, which also ban pricing and volume discounts for such flavored tobacco products, are scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 15. The city ordinances are being contested in federal court by the tobacco industry.
In an interview with Providence Business News before the rally, to illustrate the problem, McGoldrick spread out a plethora of tobacco products bought that morning at a Providence convenience store – grape, chocolate and bubble-gum flavored cigars, and flavored smokeless tobacco products, including “no-spit” pouches.
PBN: Why is Providence a national leader in promoting tobacco-free kids efforts?
McGOLDRICK: There are only two other communities that have [prohibited fruit and candy-flavored] tobacco products such as cigars and smokeless tobacco – New York City and the state of Maine.
In terms of the pricing and discount issue, as far as I know, Providence is the first to address this issue by prohibiting the coupon redemption and the volume discounts [for kids]. That’s why we are proud of the city council and the mayor for taking action.
Everyone who has ever studied this – the government, cancer institutes, the American Cancer Society, and Wall Street analysts – has found that price has a huge impact on smoking particularly on younger people.
Beginning Oct. 15, none of these flavored products can be sold to young people in Providence. They can only be sold in adults-only facilities, such as smoking bars. If it’s the adults who are using them, as the tobacco companies would have you believe, then that’s fine.
PBN: Lawyers that were involved with the original tobacco suit are now considering potential actions against food companies. Do you see these kinds of city ordinances laying the groundwork for other kinds of legal interventions?
McGOLDRICK: I can’t say. We do know that with anti-tobacco efforts, the most effective programs that work are the population-based interventions. The reason why raising the price is so effective is because it hits everyone. A small increase across the entire population has a dramatic public health impact. You can quantify the results.
PBN: Why do you think the tobacco industry is pushing back so hard? Why are they suing Providence in federal court?
McGOLDRICK: They know the power of price. We know that increasing the price works [as a deterrent]. We both know that it works. The tobacco industry just spent almost $50 million to defeat a tobacco tax initiative on the ballot in California, because they know the power of price.
Somehow Providence and its city council acted and got it done. If the tobacco industry doesn’t stop it at the legislative level, they bring lawsuits. They have endless resources at their disposal, they hire the biggest, most powerful law firms.
Their lawsuits are predictable, it’s a standard operating procedure.
They also work very closely with retailers, with anti-tax groups such as Americans for Tax Refom, and with smokers’ rights groups.
PBN: Are smokeless tobacco products making inroads with teen athletes? A parent recently told how his son, a member of the high school football team, started chewing tobacco because many members of the team were doing it, and it had become an accepted part of the culture of the team.
McGOLDRICK: The industry has a history of marketing its tobacco products with things that people like. They are now pushing the flavored cigar, we’ve seen that in the urban culture. Snoop Dog has his own line of cigars.
You can find them in little corner stores and bodegas in urban areas; they’re loaded with this stuff – cigars flavored with grape, cherry, bubble gum, and chocolate. They make them cheap and sweet.
Tobacco companies have always used music [to sell their products]. They are the best marketers in the world, whether its music or sports.
PBN: Texas Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton recently talked about his recent problems being related to his efforts end his addiction and stop using chewing tobacco. How important are sports heroes in the marketing of smokeless tobacco products?
McGOLDRICK: Smokeless tobacco has long been associated with Major League Baseball. We’ve tried several times to get smokeless tobacco out of baseball; we had a big national campaign during the collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
The players are such role models for kids. Most of the players will say they started using chewing tobacco because they had a coach or a Major Leaguer whom they looked up to, and wanted to imitate them. Kids imitate their swings, they imitate how they wear their uniforms, kids imitate everything about them.
We did get language in the collective bargaining agreement, so you won’t see the tins in their pockets this year. But we couldn’t get them to prohibit use on the field. So they have it in their mouths but they can’t have it in their pocket.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported getting a ban on smokeless on the field.
Still, getting what we did in the collective bargaining agreement is a pretty big deal, but we didn’t get as far as we wanted on it.