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Survey Finds Increased Youth Use of Non-Cigarette Tobacco Products – Yet Another Warning that FDA Must Take Action

Statement of Susan M. Liss, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 14, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that declines in youth cigarette smoking are being partially offset by the growing popularity of other tobacco products, including cigars, electronic cigarettes and hookahs. Among all high school boys, the cigar smoking rate now equals, and even slightly exceeds, the cigarette smoking rate: 16.7 percent for cigars compared to 16.3 percent for cigarettes in 2012. There has been a large increase in cigar smoking among African-American high school students since 2009; in 2012, 16.7 percent of African-American high school students smoked cigars, while 9.6 percent smoked cigarettes.

These findings show why it is urgent that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) move forward with plans to regulate all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes. The FDA, which currently regulates cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, announced nearly three years ago that it planned to extend its jurisdiction to all other tobacco products. However, the Obama Administration has yet to issue the necessary regulations. Today’s survey results show that this delay has very real consequences for the health of our children. The FDA must act to stop the marketing and sale of all tobacco products to kids.

Other findings of the Youth Tobacco Survey, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, include:

  • From 2011 to 2012, cigarette smoking rates fell from 15.8 to 14 percent among high school students and from 4.3 to 3.5 percent among middle school students. While the CDC found these one-year changes were not statistically significant, they continue a long-term decline in youth smoking. Since 2000, high school smoking has been reduced by half (from 28 to 14 percent), while middle school smoking has fallen by 68 percent (from 11 to 3.5 percent). Both high school and middle school smoking rates are at all-time lows.

  • As the CDC first reported in September, current e-cigarette use rose significantly from 2011 to 2012 among students in both middle school (0.6 to 1.1 percent) and high school (1.5 to 2.8 percent). The CDC also reported that the percentage of high school students who have ever used e-cigarettes jumped from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012. These increases come as e-cigarette makers have marketed their products with the same tactics that have been used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, lavish magazine ads, auto racing sponsorships, sweet flavors and even a cartoon pitchman.

  • From 2011 to 2012, there was a significant increase in use of hookahs (waterpipes) among high school students (4.1 to 5.4 percent).

The survey’s troubling trends regarding cigars come as tobacco companies have exploited regulatory and tax loopholes to market an array of cheap, sweet cigars, many of which look and are smoked just like cigarettes. Tobacco companies have circumvented a 2009 federal ban on candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes by marketing similarly flavored cigars. Many cigars are also taxed at lower rates than cigarettes and can be sold individually, keeping them cheap and affordable for kids.

In addition, a recent study conducted by Legacy and published in the American Journal of Public Health found that little cigars and cigarillos are more available, significantly cheaper and more likely to be advertised on the exteriors of retail outlets in African-American neighborhoods.

As the large declines in cigarette smoking demonstrate, we know how to win the fight against tobacco by implementing scientifically proven strategies. These include higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, and effective FDA regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

But today’s survey also reminds us that the tobacco companies are constantly seeking to circumvent these measures and continue targeting our kids. To protect kids, the FDA must regulate all tobacco products, including cigars. Congress and the states should increase tax rates on all tobacco products to the same rate as cigarettes. And Congress should also reject pending legislation that would exempt some cigars from FDA regulation.

To keep making progress against the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, we need a comprehensive strategy to protect our kids from all tobacco products.