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New Study: Sweet Tobacco Products Use Same Flavor Chemicals as Candy and Kool-Aid

FDA Must Act to Prevent Tobacco Companies from Using Flavors to Lure Kids
May 07, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Tobacco companies are using the same flavor chemicals in their sweet-flavored tobacco products, including cigars of various sizes and smokeless tobacco, that are used in popular candy and drink products such as LifeSavers, Jolly Ranchers and Kool-Aid, according to research published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found that several of the tobacco products contained flavor chemicals at much higher concentrations than in the non-tobacco products.

“The same, familiar, chemical-specific flavor sensory cues that are associated with fruit flavors in popular candy and drink products are being exploited in the engineered designs of flavored tobacco products. What we are seeing is truly candy-flavored tobacco,” the researchers wrote in a research letter published by the journal.

It is deeply disturbing that the tobacco industry is using the same flavors found in popular candy and drink products to lure kids to use candy-flavored tobacco products. The 2009 federal law giving the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes. But other tobacco products, including cigars, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes, continue to be available in a wide range of sweet flavors. This research is more evidence that the FDA should prohibit tobacco companies from using flavors that appeal to kids.

The FDA must quickly and within one year finalize its new proposed rule to begin regulating cigars, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products not currently under its jurisdiction. The FDA must also begin immediately to develop regulations that close gaps in the proposed rule by restricting flavors and marketing that appeal to kids.

The new study was conducted by a team of researchers at Portland State University led by Professor James F. Pankow. The researchers analyzed 12 artificially flavored candy and fruit drink products, including different versions of LifeSavers, Jolly Ranchers and Kool-Aid, and compared them to 15 widely-available flavored cigar and smokeless tobacco products. They found significant overlap in the flavor chemicals used. One example – the flavor chemicals used in cherry Kool-Aid and “Wild Cherry” Cheyenne cigars are extremely similar.

When flavored cigarettes were banned, some companies modified their flavored cigarettes to meet the legal definition of cigars (e.g., by adding tobacco to the wrapper) and continued to market them with sweet flavors. According to the study published today, “Because some cigars are now structurally very similar to cigarettes, the ability to flavor cigars translates into the continued availability of flavored cigarette-like products.” “Wild Cherry” Cheyenne cigars are just one example of this conversion.

Tobacco industry documents show that the industry has long recognized the benefits of sweet flavors in attracting new tobacco users, especially kids. According to an October 2013 CDC study on youth use of flavored tobacco products, “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.”

The availability of cheap, sweet cigars has helped fuel an increase in cigar sales even while cigarette sales have declined. Between 2000 and 2013, cigar consumption increased by 114 percent, while cigarette consumption declined by 37 percent. According to national surveys, 17.8 percent of high school boys currently smoke cigars (i.e., large cigars, cigarillos and small cigars), and every day more than 2,700 kids try cigar smoking for the first time. The most popular cigar brands among youth – including top three brands Black & Mild, Swisher Sweets and White Owl – come in a wide variety of flavors, such as peach, strawberry, chocolate, grape, blueberry, wild apple, pineapple and watermelon.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 480,000 people and costing the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses each year. Today’s study provides more evidence for the FDA to act quickly to stop the tobacco industry from using flavored products to addict children.