Student Spotlight: Talia Kurlansky and Flavors Hook Kids Maine


There are many students on campus involved in an array of interesting, important and inspiring activities, a number of which are individual, off-campus projects that often go unnoticed. The Student is going to be featuring this work in our weekly newsletters! If you know someone involved in something you think should be highlighted, fill out this form to nominate them to our Student Spotlight feature!

Tobacco use among Maine youth has been skyrocketing. Flavors Hook Kids Maine (FHKM), a subsidiary of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is a grassroots campaign working to “help give Maine youth and young adults a fair shot at a healthy and productive future, free from tobacco addiction.” 

By raising awareness across the state of Maine, the organization hopes to reach lawmakers before April’s legislative session to pass laws to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine.

Talia Kurlansky ‘22 has worked for governorship campaigns throughout her time at Bates. It was through that network that she found Flavors Hook Kids Maine. “It’s a different type of campaign work, but that same grassroots skillset,” Kurlansky told The Student. “I like how it’s non-partisan in the sense that it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, at this stage, it’s pretty hard to deny there’s an ongoing epidemic of tobacco usage among kids.” 

The Stats

According to FHKM, “The state of Maine is facing a youth crisis with the staggering amount of teen smoking rates on the rise. It is estimated that one out of every four Maine teens currently uses tobacco products, with four out of five teens saying they started with flavored tobacco.” Nationally, eight out of 10 middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes use flavored products.

Kurlansky stated, “The high concentration of tobacco in these flavored products is a serious concern for youth who are already uniquely susceptible to nicotine addiction.” The U.S. Surgeon General now warns that nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and long-term harm to brain development.

Even if it’s so obvious to us, it’s not to others, and it needs to be brought to the attention of everyone.”

Kurlansky said she is also concerned about how the tobacco industry targets minority, at-risk and low-income communities. “There is a proven history of these companies that produce these products’ marketing strategies aimed towards youth.” Kurlansky continued to express concern over the usage rates within BIPOC communities. “The way they’re marketing these products is not a mistake. I believe that it should be your own choice whether you want to use these products, but the fact that they’re being marketed and pushed upon young children who are more likely to get addicted and aren’t aware of all the information and risks, is extremely scary.”  

Getting Involved

Kurlansky is trying to find people who have a history of tobacco use. “Our goal is to gather testimonies from anyone willing to speak about their personal experience or the issue in general.” With hopes that it reaches Governor Mills’ docket for the upcoming legislative season, FHKM has multiple main ways you can get involved. 

Kurlansky told The Student, “I just want to have conversations with people who support the issue, or aren’t even sure. That includes any students who have ever used a flavored product or experienced the usage of them in schools.” From there, with those who are willing, Kurlansky hopes to make short video testimonies for social media to raise awareness. “It’s amazing how many parents and adults are unaware of the magnitude of the situation. It would be great to speak with teachers, parents, professors, or any other Bates staff as well.”

“So many adults I’ve spoken to don’t believe me when I tell them how common it is for students to be hitting vapes through their sleeves in class. It seems so normal to us, but for the older generation, it’s harder for them to wrap their heads around. It’s not like you could light a cigarette in class.” 

“Even if it’s so obvious to us, it’s not to others, and it needs to be brought to the attention of everyone.”

Kurlansky also said FHKM needs people to call Governor Mills’ office and write letters to the editor. For individuals more interested in involvement opportunities, Kurlansky outlined a few more options in an interview with The Student: “Whether anonymously written or over Zoom, we’ll have multiple live testimony opportunities approaching in the coming months.”

Looking Forward

When asked about the movement as a whole, Kurlansky said, “We know the tobacco industry has funds devoted to lobbying and making sure legislation like this doesn’t get in the way of their profits. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a very strong movement aware of the tobacco industries grasp on the country. It’s not an accident that this is a grassroots campaign.” Kurlasnky continued by stating, “In order for this to work, it needs to come from the people. If it’s an issue that voters care about, it will be heard in the legislature.” 

Graduating at the end of the semester, Talia Kurlansky is a Politics and Dance Major with a Minor in Asian Studies. She hopes to continue working in politics and specifically organizing international relations. Kurlansky can be reached at [email protected].