Big Tobacco’s Tricks Not Treats

October 31, 2013

They come in flavors like wild apple, berry blend, watermelon and chocolate.

They may sound like Halloween treats, but in fact they’re Big Tobacco’s tricks for getting kids hooked on their products.

Tobacco companies peddle sweet-flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco products that are flavored and colorfully packaged just like candy. Sometimes sugary snacks and their tobacco imitators even share counter space in convenience stores.

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of U.S. youth (grades 6-12) who currently smoke reported using flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes. A 2009 federal law banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, but tobacco companies are getting around it and luring kids with sweet-flavored cigars that often look and are smoked just like cigarettes.

But the tricks don’t end there. Makers of electronic cigarettes, which currently are not subject to federal regulation, are taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook by offering kid-friendly flavors. “E-juice” is available in flavors reminiscent of kids’ cereal (e.g. Fruit Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch), baked goods (chocolate chip cookies and brownie), and – of course – candy (banana Laffy Taffy and gummi bear).

As the recent CDC study noted, “Flavors can mask the natural harshness and taste of tobacco, making flavored tobacco products easier to use and increasing their appeal among youth.”

Ninety percent of adult smokers start by the age of 18, so prevention of youth tobacco use is key to reducing tobacco’s deadly toll. That’s why, this Halloween, the real “treat” would be for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes, and take strong action to protect our kids from tobacco addiction.