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New Study Finds Over 40 Percent of Youth Smokers Use Flavored Little Cigars or Cigarettes, Shows Need for FDA to Regulate All Tobacco Products

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 22, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – More than 40 percent of U.S. youth (grades 6-12) who currently smoke reported using flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

This study is based on data from the 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey. It indicates that, despite a 2009 federal ban on candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, tobacco companies continue to lure kids with cheap, sweet-flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes. This study underscores the urgent need for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take strong additional action to protect our kids from tobacco addiction:

  • The FDA should act promptly to assert regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including cigars. A 2009 law granted the agency immediate authority over cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. It allowed the agency to extend its jurisdiction to all other tobacco products. The FDA indicated more than three years ago that it planned to do so, but has yet to act. In the meantime, tobacco companies have circumvented the ban on sweet-flavored cigarettes by marketing similarly flavored little cigars that look and are smoked just like cigarettes. The FDA must close this loophole and stop tobacco industry practices that target kids.

  • The FDA should also move as quickly as possible to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, as the 2009 law allows the agency to do. The FDA in July released a 153-page report that found menthol cigarettes lead to 1) increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults; 2) greater addiction; and 3) decreased success in quitting smoking.

State and local governments should also exercise their authority to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including little cigars. To date, Maine, New York City and Providence, Rhode Island, have banned the sale of some or all flavored tobacco products. The New York City and Providence laws were challenged by the tobacco industry and upheld by federal courts.

According to today’s study, “Flavors can mask the natural harshness and taste of tobacco, making flavored tobacco products easier to use and increasing their appeal among youth. Advertising for flavored tobacco products has been targeted toward youth, and flavored product use may influence the establishment of lifelong tobacco-use patterns among younger individuals.”

Among middle and high school students who currently smoke, 42.4 percent reported using flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes, the study found. Among current cigar smokers, 35.9 percent reported using flavored little cigars. Among current cigarette smokers, 35.4 percent reported using flavored cigarettes. Study authors attributed the high level of youth smokers who still report smoking flavored cigarettes to two possible factors: use of menthol cigarettes and youth reporting that they used flavored cigarettes when in fact they used flavored little cigars “which are comparable to cigarettes with regard to shape, size, filters and packaging.” These cigarette-like products have been manipulated by tobacco companies to meet the definition of cigars in order to avoid the cigarette flavor ban and higher taxes on cigarettes.

According to the study, 11.6 percent of high school students were current cigar smokers, and 38.4 percent of these cigar smokers used flavored little cigars.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing the nation nearly $100 billion in health care costs each year. Today’s study should prompt the FDA to act quickly to stop the tobacco industry from using flavored products to addict children and put them on a path to serious diseases and premature death.