Sweet, Cheap and Colorful – No… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Sweet, Cheap and Colorful – No Wonder Kids Are Smoking Cigars

June 13, 2014

The CDC's 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released on Thursday, had both good news and bad news. The good news: a big decline in cigarette smoking among high school students from 18.1 percent in 2011 to 15.7 percent in 2013.

The bad news: essentially no change in cigar smoking or smokeless tobacco use. In fact, high school boys now smoke cigars at the same rate as cigarettes (16.5 percent for cigars and 16.4 percent for cigarettes). Nearly a quarter of 12th grade boys (23 percent) smoke cigars, compared to 19.6 percent who smoke cigarettes. (Note: We’ll have more about smokeless tobacco in a later blog post.)

So what makes cigars popular with teens?

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

Even worse, some manufacturers have deliberately manipulated their cigar products to get around bans on sweet-flavored cigarettes and other regulations like higher taxes aimed at reducing youth tobacco use. These manipulations make these cigars more affordable and appealing to kids.

These images tell the story.

Sweet Flavors

Cigar products are sold in flavors like chocolate, strawberry, grape, peach, watermelon, sour apple, fruit punch 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 and come as cheap as three for 89 cents, which makes them very affordable to kids with limited budgets. Cigarettes, on the other hand, must be sold in packs of 20 and average more than $6 per pack nationally.

Colorful Packaging

Many smaller cigars come in bright, attractive packaging similar to candy and gum packages. Again, this makes cigars look fun and harmless.

Product Manipulations

A 2009 federal law banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes – but did not apply to cigars. Some manufacturers have exploited this loophole to market sweet-flavored cigars that look just like cigarettes.

Some have also increased the weight of their products to qualify for lower tax rates charged on large cigars. One company went so far as to add weight by using sepiolite, a clay material used in kitty litter.

To protect kids, it's critical that the FDA quickly move forward to regulate all tobacco products, including all cigars. And Congress should reject legislation to exempt some cigars from FDA oversight, since we know that manufacturers can and will change their products to take advantage of any loophole.