Flavored Tobacco Products Appeal to Youth

More than 40% of middle and high school students who smoke use either flavored cigarettes or flavored little cigars, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published October 22, 2013 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The authors say these findings indicate the need for efforts to reduce the use of flavored tobacco products among young people.

Flavored cigarettes other than menthol are against the law because they appeal to children – but flavored cigars aren’t. Cigarette-sized cigars are available in flavors like grape, chocolate, and strawberry, and look like cigarettes.

“Flavored or not, cigars cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems. Flavored little cigars appeal to youth and the use of these tobacco products may lead to disfigurement, disability, and premature death,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. ”We need to take comprehensive steps to reduce all tobacco use for all of our youth.”

This study uses data from the 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey and is the first to measure how many American youth are using flavored tobacco products. It found that among current cigar or cigarette smokers in grades 6 – 12, 42.4% reported using flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes. Among cigar smokers, those who used flavored little cigars were more likely than other cigar smokers to have no intention of quitting.

“Little cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Many flavored little cigars appear virtually indistinguishable from cigarettes with similar sizes, shapes, filters, and packaging.”

The study’s authors write that advertising for flavored tobacco products has been targeted toward youth. They say flavors can mask the natural harshness and taste of tobacco, making flavored tobacco products easier for young people to use and increasing their appeal. In addition, they say little cigars are cheaper than cigarettes because they’re taxed at a lower rate at the state level. Sales of little cigars have skyrocketed in recent years, increasing 240% from 1997 to 2007, with flavored varieties making up almost 80% of the market share.

The authors conclude that more efforts are needed to decrease tobacco use among children and teens. Their suggestions include a federal ban on flavored cigars, local ordinances to prevent the sale of all flavored tobacco products, media anti-tobacco campaigns, restrictions on advertisements and promotions, price increases, school-based policies, community programs, and tighter restrictions on the sale of tobacco products to young people.

Youth and smoking

According to the 2012 US Surgeon General’s report, 1 out of 4 high school seniors is a regular cigarette smoker. Children and teens who smoke put themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and the many diseases associated with smoking. Regular teen smokers report health problems including coughing spells, shortness of breath, wheezing, headaches, and cold and flu symptoms.

Almost all tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood. Studies show that the younger people are when they begin to use tobacco, the more likely they are to use it as an adult. According to the Surgeon General’s office, if young people can remain free of tobacco until age 18, most will never start smoking. And people who start regularly using tobacco when they’re younger are more likely to have trouble quitting than people who start later in life.

The Surgeon General’s report says quit-smoking programs are effective when they combine mass media campaigns, price increases, and smoke-free policies in schools and communities. But parents can do a lot, too:

  • Set an example by not using tobacco yourself.
  • If you use tobacco, you can still make a difference. Your best move, of course, is to try to quit. Meanwhile, don’t use tobacco around your children, don’t offer it to them, and don’t leave it where they can easily get it.
  • Talk to your children about the dangers of tobacco.
  • Tell your children you expect them to never use tobacco – or if they’re already using it – to quit.
  • Be aware of what your children are doing and who their friends are.
  • Network with other parents who can help you encourage children and teens to refuse tobacco.
  • Encourage your children’s schools to enforce tobacco-free policies.
  • Enforce movie age restrictions and discourage teens from playing video games that feature smoking.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Flavored-Little-Cigar and Flavored-Cigarette Use Among U.S. Middle and High School Students. Published October 22, 2013 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. First author Brian A. King, PhD, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

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