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Sweet, Cheap and Colorful – No Wonder Some Cigars Are Popular with Kids

August 14, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new survey results last week showing that youth cigarette smoking continues to fall, but it had troubling news about cigars.

The survey found that, from 2009 to 2011, cigar smoking by African-American teens jumped from 7.1 percent to 11.7 percent. Among all high school boys, 15.7 percent smoke cigars, a rate that hasn’t budged in recent years.

So what’s behind the popularity of cigars with teens?

It’s a simple answer. Cigar makers have been marketing a growing variety of products — called little cigars, cigarillos and blunts — that have sweet flavors, cheap prices and colorful packaging. Sweet, cheap and colorful lures kids.

In addition, some cigars have been marketed specifically to African-American kids, sometimes through association with hip-hop music.

These images tell the story.

Sweet Flavors

Cigars products are sold in flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, grape, peach, watermelon, sour apple, mango and banana. These sweet flavors mask the harsh flavor of tobacco and make cigars seem as harmless and fun as candy or ice cream.

Cheap Prices

Small cigars can be purchased individually, sometimes for less than 70 cents, making them very affordable to kids with limited budgets. In contrast, cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20, which have an average retail price of $5.98 cents per pack.

Colorful Packaging

Many smaller cigars come in bright, attractive packaging similar to candy and gum packages. Again, the effect is to present cigars as fun and harmless.

Targeted Marketing to African-American Kids

Trendsettah USA, a California company, has promoted flavored cigars called “Hoodwraps” to urban youth, using names such as “Da Bomb Blueberry” and “Swagberry.” The company’s slogan: “So Hood. So Good.”

Cigars are also getting a lift from popular music figures. Rapper Snoop Dogg earlier this year introduced a cigar brand called Executive Branch Cigarillos and has got a music video promoting it.

Or take a look at this video from hip-hop artist Just Nick, who sings “I don't smoke weed, but I'm going to puff me a Black & Mild, gotta be the wood tips … if I get stressed I light one up and it just fades away... To the R to the A to the B, it's only a dollar, stop hassling me.”

A government survey shows that Black & Mild is the most popular cigar brand among 12-17 year olds, and it’s made by John Middleton, Inc., a subsidiary of Altria, which is also the parent company of Philip Morris USA.