What about flavored cigars?

Now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power to regulate tobacco products we will see more meaningful moves to reduce the harmfulness and addictiveness of tobacco, as well as to reduce its addictiveness to young people. However, we should also expect the tobacco industry to respond by trying to find loopholes that help it get around these regulatory moves.

The first example is the ban on added flavors to cigarettes (which currently excludes menthol flavor, i.e. it is not banned automatically). Recently I’ve noticed an increased promotion of flavored cigars, often being sold as singles, in bright colorful packaging. The current FDA flavor regulation doesn’t ban fruit, candy and other flavors in cigars or smokeless tobacco, just cigarettes. Now you might wonder whether this makes any difference, or who these flavors appeal to. A new study by Dr Kenneth Manning and colleagues at Colorado State University found that adolescents who have a ‘sensation seeking” personality are more attracted to tobacco marketing that describes flavored tobacco (e.g. cherry flavor) that normal tobacco flavor, and rated themselves as more likely to try a flavored brand. “Sensation seeking”, as the name implies, is a personality trait characterized by an attraction to intense and novel stimuli and interest in experiencing those stimuli. Of course sensation-seeking adolescents are the very ones who are at high risk of taking up smoking at a young age.

So it seems to me that if we really want the ban on flavors to have its desired effect of preventing youth from starting smoking, we urgently need to close the loophole and ban flavored cigars also. Right now of course we have another loophole relating to cigars which is that there are numerous brands of cigars that are pretty much the same as cigarettes (i.e small cigars the same size as cigarettes, with filters etc and the main difference being that the tobacco paper is brown and contains tobacco leaf….which technically makes it a cigar). Not only are these so-called cigars still allowed to have candy flavors, in most states they are also much cheaper because they are taxed at a lower rate. Just to give you an example, this week my local pharmacy was selling a pack of 20 menthol-flavored filter-tipped little cigars for $2.26 including all taxes, whereas a pack of Marlboro cigarettes was selling at $7.76.

Some of these loopholes (e.g. state taxes) need to be closed by state legislators and some (e.g. definition of a cigar and what can be added to it) can be close by FDA. Every day these cheap, flavored, products remain on the market there will be more adolescents starting their deadly addiction.

Manning K, Kelly K, Comello M. Flavored cigarettes, sensation seeking, and adolescents perceptions of cigarette brands. Tobacco Control (online)
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.