When the 2009 Tobacco Control Act went into effect, the FDA banned cigarettes with candy, fruit and clove flavorings that appealed to youth. But that didn’t mean flavored tobacco products disappeared from store shelves. The tobacco industry changed the color of their spots, or at least the cigarettes from white to brown, added a bit of weight and a filter to it, put it in bright colored packaging and called it a cigarillo or little cigar. And that’s not the only flavored tobacco product out there. Hookah tobacco, called shisha, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and pipe tobacco all have flavorings too. Add menthol cigarettes to the mix and that’s a lot of flavored product. Now, new data just released from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) reports that all these flavored tobacco products are a hit, with an estimated 70% of U.S. middle and high school students using at least one flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days which defines them as current users.
At the top of the list are e-cigarettes, with an estimated 30,000 possible flavor combinations, according to one e-cigarette vapor company. With that many flavorings, it is no wonder that 63.3% of youth or about 1.58 million have tried them. Throw in the cloud-producing factor of the devices and you can understand the popularity of this trend.
A reported 1.02 million, or 60.6% of teens have reported using flavored hookah tobacco. This specialty tobacco, often called shisha, is often mixed with molasses or honey and fruit to sweeten this moist and sticky tobacco. Many shishas claim to be organic or herbal, giving the illusion that the product is somehow safer. It is still tobacco and it still exposes the user to tar and carcinogens.
A reported 63.5% or about 910,000 youth reported using a flavored cigar in the past 30 days. A single little cigar can sell for as little as $0.33 in a three-pack, while a larger size cigar flavored cigars may be several dollars. The little cigars are often the size of a cigarette and many have tips or filters, prompting the user to inhale the smoke into lungs rather than holding the smoke in the mouth before exhaling like with a traditional large cigar. The tobacco industry gets away with selling these little cigars so cheaply because cigars are taxed by weight so they add fillers to increase the weight. Youth aren’t looking for a fine smoking experience, but rather a cheap nicotine hit and this not only delivers they can easily purchase them.
Flavored smokeless tobacco was used by 58.8% or 690,000 teens. These products have a lot of sugar and 3x the nicotine of cigarettes, but teens think smokeless is safer because there is no chemicals from burning and no secondhand smoke. However, there are still 28 cancer-causing chemicals in it. Smokeless has long been associated with baseball where it wasn’t uncommon to see a wad of chew in a player’s mouth and a stream of spit hitting the ground.
Menthol cigarettes are still popular among teens with 53.6% or about 900,000 teens using this product. When flavors were banned in cigarettes, the FDA left menthol off the list. Menthol cigarettes still deliver all the cancer-causing chemicals as regular cigarettes, but with a cooling effect on the throat allowing users to inhale deeper. New youth smokers often smoke menthols to begin with and may switch to non-menthol cigarettes, making “menthols a gateway to regular tobacco use.” Black Americans smoke more menthol cigarettes than any other group with tobacco research institution reporting that percentage at 70-92%.
Finally 42.3% of youth or about 120,000 are using flavored tobacco pipe tobacco. Loose pipe tobacco is taxed at a lower rate, making this tobacco cheap. Many teens believe it is less dangerous than traditional rolled cigarettes, but this tobacco has the same cancer-causing chemicals found in traditional rolled cigarettes.
These flavored products are popular among our youth and the added flavorings lure them into products they might not otherwise try, but there are steps we can take. Removing flavored cigars from general stores and placing them in cigar shops would drastically cut the use by teens, but removing flavors all together is the solution. Taxing the cigars at similar levels as cigarettes would increase the price point and decrease youth use, and the time is overdue for a tax increase on all cigars. Removing menthol from the market would not only decrease teen use but would help cut the adult smoking rate as well.
Click HERE to read the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)