Remember grape, strawberry and banana-flavored cigar bubblegum? Those flavors are still there, along with apple, peach, blueberry and other flavors, but don’t look in the candy aisle. These flavors are in the tobacco section of your local convenience store. The bright, shiny, colored packaging isn’t meant to draw the eye of seasoned tobacco users, but rather to get the attention of youth and hook them on tobacco products, and they do. As one member of the Students Working Against Tobacco described flavored tobacco, “It’s like Starburst,” a candy that includes strawberry, cherry and orange flavors. But if some communities in Florida have their way, resolutions will be adopted urging businesses to stop selling the products. which include liqueur- and fruit-flavored cigars, chew and snuff.
Port Orange, Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Lake Mary communities are part of the nearly 100 that have adopted resolutions, and Lake County joined the effort this month. A 2010 Lake County survey found one in five students in middle- and high-school use flavored tobacco. In Orange County, the numbers were about one in six kids using flavored tobacco products.
Many younger smokers gravitate to the flavored products for several reasons. Kids believe that smoking a flavored cigar or cigarillo, a “little cigar,” is less harmful than smoking a cigarette. Also, the products are cheaper than cigarettes. Flavored cigarillos, which are the same size as a cigarette, get around loopholes in the law for taxation because they are defined as a cigar, not a manufactured cigarette. A pack of 20 costs less than a pack of economy cigarettes. Cigarillos can also be bought individually for about 69 cents each.
The tobacco companies claim they do not market to kids and are working to prevent them from smoking. Yet they use flavorings and bright wrappers and containers that look similar to candy to entice the kids to try the products. The companies believe that rather than banning flavored tobacco or changing their packaging, local and state government should enforce the laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors. Convenience store owners don’t want to voluntarily throw out a flavored tobacco product which is supposed to be only sold to adults. They claim parents needs to be responsible for their children. Yet many parents are not even aware that their kids are using tobacco products. It is a circle of blame that no one wants to take responsibility, but some Florida communities are trying to protect their kids.