Florida: Tobacco 21 is no more

If you were planning on Tobacco 21 making it through the Florida legislature, you will have to wait another year.  One of the best reasons for raising the legal tobacco age to 21 in Florida is to keep 18 year olds, who are already of legal age, from purchasing tobacco and vaping products for younger peers.  If you raise the age, you are removing one of the sources of distribution.  While we were excited about the bill, there were things the legislature added to it to make it less effective.

First, members of the legislature excluded members of the military from the age restriction.  They felt if an 18 year old could join the military, they were adult enough to make the decision whether to smoke or not.  But there are several things about that decision the legislature has not taken into consideration.  For decades, tobacco prices on military bases have been lower, making it cheaper and easier to purchase tobacco.  This isn’t being patriotic and giving our military members a break, this is targeting.  Military smoking rates are substantially higher than civilian rates and cost the Department of Defense over $1.6 billion per year including tobacco-related hospitalization, medical care and lost workdays.  It wasn’t until 2016 that DOD policy guidelines “included a rule that tobacco products sold on bases, must cost the same as those sold in nearly retail outlets,” but many have found prices on bases are still below civilian prices. Making military members part of the age restriction means protecting their lives.

Second, Florida would exempt cigars from this bill thanks to the strong cigar lobby in our state.  One of the biggest makers of cigars, “Swisher International, known for ‘Swisher Sweets,” is based in Jacksonville, Florida.  Flavored cigarettes were banned in 2009, but the number of flavored little cigars has exploded and are popular with teens. The majority of Swisher’s products aren’t hand-rolled cigars a true aficionado would smoke.  These filtered, cigarette-sized, loose leaf tobacco, highly flavored little cigars are smoked like a cigarette and marketed to kids.  Easy to find YouTube videos that show how the products are cut and the loose tobacco removed to be replace with marijuana.  The strong flavorings of the cigar paper cut the smell when burned.  New Swisher products include lunch and dinner flavors. Cigars in Florida are not taxed.

The cigar exemption doesn’t make sense, but one member of the Florida Legislature has made his family’s fortune through the family cigar business and only stepped down as CEO when he became speaker.  Vape shop owners complained raising the tobacco age to 21 would hurt their business.

The original bill would have also “decriminalized selling tobacco to minors.”  We wouldn’t have this vaping epidemic in our state if retailers would follow the law that specifically states “it is unlawful to sell, deliver, barter, furnish, or give, directly or indirectly, to any person who is under 18 years of age, any nicotine product or a nicotine dispensing device.”  The federal tobacco law is currently at 18 years of age as well, but may be raised, meaning our state would follow the federal law.

And what about those kids in rural areas like the Panhandle who are addicted to nicotine from smokeless tobacco?  Raising the age to 21 means they can’t use vaping products, which contain nicotine, to get off smokeless products.  This was a voiced concern of lawmakers, but substituting one form of nicotine for another is not the answer.  Nicotine changes the brain, especially in young teens, making the addiction stronger and affecting other body systems.

Our legislature missed the entire point of raising the tobacco age to 21.  Raising the tobacco age and keeping kids away from nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco and vaping products, means a healthier future for our kids.  It’s time our legislature put the health of our kids and our state over the profits of the tobacco industry.

Click HERE for more information on this article.

Swisher Sweets by the carton picture from Thompsoncigar.com
Swisher Sweets dinner picture from Swisher Sweets Twitter account
Swisher Sweets “How to Roll” from YouTube



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E-cigarette and vaping semantics

Semantics is the study of meaning in language, and depending on how you word statements or questions, you may get different answers.  Take smoking, for example.  You may think of cigarettes, but there are other forms of smoking such as pipe, cigar and hookah.  The same could apply to the word vaping.  Teens have turned that word around and the vaping device has become the act.   Teens don’t vape, they Juul.

In trying to determine the number of teens vaping, health officials will have to specifically mention Juul as an example of an e-cigarette.  When the results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey comes out new language will specifically target Juul as one type of e-cigarette.  Those working on the survey anticipate an increase in e-cigarette use due to the updated language.

Last year government officials called teen vaping an “epidemic.  Between 2017 and 2018, high school e-cigarette use increased 78% nationally.  The previous survey named e-cigarette brands “Imperial Brands Plc’s Blu and Altria Group Inc.’s MarkTen” but didn’t include Juul.  Altria has since bought a 35% stake in Juul amounting to $38 billion and has discontinued their MarkTen brand of e-cigarette.  Juul will be added to this year’s survey and Suorin, a tear-drop shaped device that can be refilled with any e-liquid, will be added in 2020.

What made Juul so popular among teens is its use of social media.  While Facebook and Instagram don’t allow tobacco advertising, they do allow pictures of teens using tobacco and vaping products, and the hashtags would promote the device.  The Juul Twitter account refers to to them as @JUULvapor without mentioning them as an e-cigarette.  Under pressure from the FDA, the U.S. Facebook and Instagram accounts were shut down in November.

Juul product packaging now contains warning labels about nicotine and its addictive properties, but that wasn’t always the case.  Most earlier users didn’t know the product contained nicotine or was addictive.  A survey in November 2018 by Truth Initiative found 63% of Juul users 15 to 24 didn’t know the product contains nicotine.  And those who did know about the nicotine weren’t aware of potential downsides.  One 22 year old user who goes through a pod a day (nicotine equivalent of a pack of cigarettes), said that Juul has “been marketed as something not damaging to our health at all.”  Research is now showing that e-cigarettes are probably as bad as traditional cigarettes.

The FDA is trying to do damage control with ads on Hulu, Facebook and Spotify warning kids that nicotine would reprogram their brains.  And new prevention ads regarding vaping products will be on television networks starting in May.  It’s a fine line between getting adults to switch to vaping products while not encouraging teens to take up vaping.

Click HERE for the entire article.



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Will nicotine toothpicks be the next craze?

When I first started in tobacco prevention in 2011 there was the normal mix of tobacco products that you either smoked, spit, or swallowed the juices to get the nicotine.  Dissolvable tobacco products, like orbs, strips and sticks, came on the market and were going to help people use nicotine without smoking or spitting like other smokeless products but were a bust.   Hookah use among high school students in Florida became the rage for awhile and increased between 2012 – 2016, but since then numbers have fallen 26.2% between 2017 – 2018 for those who have tried it and 21.1% for those who currently use it.  Electronic vaping has taken off in our state by 361.4% between 2012-2018 for those who have tried it and 582.6% for those who currently vape.  Now an alternative nicotine product is on the market with no smoke, vapor or smell and could be hooking our kids.  It can be used in plain sight of teachers, and parents need to be aware of it….nicotine toothpicks.

These normal looking toothpicks are “infused with nicotine and flavoring agents.”   There are many different brands, but all the brands we looked at had 3.0 mg of nicotine per toothpick which claim to give you as much nicotine as a cigarette which only has 1.5mg.  These toothpicks are strong.

One former smoker who tried the Pixotine brand, said he “found it shockingly strong, with the same chest and throat burn you’d get from a couple packets of snus or a few Marlboro reds.”  He said it produced a strong buzz and he ended up with a stomach ache.  After using several of them he felt nauseous and his heart was pounding.

So what should parents know?  First of all, they come in a pouch or tube that your teen can easily put in their pocket or purse.   They are mess free and easy to use in front of teachers or parents.

Most brands like NicoPix, ZipPik, and Pixotine offer cinnamon and mint flavors, but coffee, tobacco, spice and melon flavors are also available depending on the brand.  We wouldn’t be surprised if more flavors are offered in the future.  They are easy to purchase online with Esty, eBay, vapor stores, retailers and the manufacturer offering them for sale.  And while the sites ask if you are over 18, there is no way to prove it.  The lowest price we saw was $5.00 for 20 toothpicks, but some brands offer multi-packs that will bring down the price.

The brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s and nicotine can have more harmful effects on a developing brain versus that of an adult.  Nicotine addiction is also one of the hardest addictions to beat.  School districts may not even know about this product, and many district policies only cover tobacco products and vaping devices and liquids.  No matter how nicotine is ingested, it is a dangerous and addictive substance.

Click HERE and HERE for more information on nicotine toothpicks.


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Tobacco Free Florida Week 2019

It’s Tobacco Free Florida Week, April 22-28.  This year’s theme is E-Epidemic: Vaping and Youth to help “educate parents, educators, pediatricians and partners on what they need to know about vaping and youth.”

Teen vaping has skyrocketed in Florida and around the U.S.  According to the 2018 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, 37.9% of high school students have tried electronic vaping in 2018, up 18.1% between 2017-2018.  Current use of electronic vaping increased 58.0% in that one year time period.  Middle school students who have tried electronic vaping increased 18.5% during the one year time period, while those who are current users increased 44.4%  Only 4% of Florida adults are vaping, but 1 in 4 teens report vaping in our state.

Parents need to know that e-cigarette devices contain nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that produce an aerosol that is inhaled when heated.  While some refer to the aerosol as vapor, it is not water.  Some of the flavorings used in the devices are approved as food additives, but the effects of inhaling flavorings into the lungs is not known and could be harmful long-term.

The majority of e-cigarettes liquids contain nicotine which is highly addictive.  JUUL, the most popular brand of e-cigarettes used by teens, uses nicotine salts which allows high nicotine levels to be inhaled at lower temperatures, “provides a smoother throat hit,” and makes the nicotine more absorbable.  This may cause youth to become addicted quicker compared to adults.  One JUUL pod, the liquid refill part of the device, contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes and can provide up to 200 puffs.

The important time for brain development is the adolescent and young adult years, which continues up to about age 25.  Nicotine exposure during this time can cause addiction and other effects “including reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders.”  Evidence suggests that using e-cigarettes may increase the risk of youth starting to smoke traditional cigarettes, while nicotine use may also “increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs.”

According to the Surgeon General Report on E-cigarettes and Young People, “E-cigarette use poses a significant–and avoidable–health risk to young people in the U.S.”  We can decrease teen e-cigarette use in our state by educating both parents and teens about the harms caused by the use of these products.

Click HERE for more information.

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Trinkets and Trash March 2019

Trinkets and Trash is a surveillance project that keeps tabs on what the tobacco industry is doing to advertise and market its products.  The report comes out at the beginning of the month and reports on the previous month’s activities.  Their articles are a great way to keep up with current and future tobacco and vaping products.

Natural American Spirit cigarettes is getting a jump on Earth Day which is April 22.  They have promised to “recycle half a billion littered cigarettes by 2025” and to “continue reducing our waste streams.” If you sign up for their special notifications, you will also be able to request butt pouches and get your mobile coupons.  Of course tobacco harms the earth other than air pollution and cigarette litter.  Farmers are clearing forests to plant tobacco, often times burning it.  While Natural American Spirit claims to be organic, tobacco growing is usually “one of the most chemically-intensive crops,” with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used during growth.  The tobacco also hurts the land due to soil erosion, chemical run off and destroying the “fertility of the soil making the land unsuitable for supporting any other crop.”  Of course the truth about tobacco isn’t pretty, but Natural American Spirit’s ad will hopefully make you forget all the other stuff that makes tobacco bad.

Just in case you didn’t know it, what you are smoking is not perfect, at least according to the ad for Vuse Alto, as they claim to have “the perfect puff.”  Through out the commercial, they refer to smoking and smokers, and they “push the possibilities of vapor,” but they don’t mention vaping or call it a vaping device.  Instead it is a “vapor product.” One interesting note is no one in the commercial is using the product.  I guess large clouds of vapor are as much of a turn-off as clouds of cigarette smoke.  The only positive about the commercial is the warning at the beginning stating their product contains nicotine and it is an addictive chemical.

Djarum Black is promoting their “cigar” through Instagram with both Madonna and Lady Gaga shown using the product.  In an  article in 2018 Madonna claims she never smoked.  And while other pictures have shown her with cigarettes in her mouth, she claims they were an “accessory.”  Lady Gaga has been in the news for the past several years with her chronic pain.  In 2010 she stated she had borderline lupus.  In 2017 she was suffering pain from Rhematoid Arthritis.  Another article mentioned it was chronic pain from fibromyalgia.  All of these fall under the label of Rheumatoid Diseases and smoking can worsen the pain.  Should Djarum Black even be called a cigar as they are the same size as a cigarette and have a filter?  True cigars don’t use filters.  But whether the product is a cigarette or a cigar, promoting smoking isn’t cool.

Tobacco marketing and advertising knows how to reach that emotional attachment in its users.  Whether it is pictures of pop stars using the product or pretending they care about the environment by providing pouches for you to put your tobacco litter in, they know how to push your buttons and keep you addicted to the product.

The tobacco industry isn’t losing money by giving you discounts and coupons.  You are keeping them in business and paying for it with your health.

Click here for the latest Trinkets and Trash news.

Posted in Big Tobacco, Cigarettes, Cigars, Diseases, E-Cigarettes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Batting tobacco out of baseball

Yesterday was opening day for Major League Baseball, one of the earliest openings ever, and almost half of all MLB stadiums are now tobacco-free.  There was a time when baseball and tobacco seemed to go hand-in-hand and players actively used tobacco during the game.  But over time as some of the players developed serious health issues related to their tobacco use and they become anti-tobacco spokesmen, people turned against the relationship between tobacco and the game.  But just how did tobacco become synonymous with the game?

One way was through the use of cards with baseball players pictures.  Baseball started in the mid-1800s, and as photography gained popularity clubs started to pose for pictures.  Pictures of the players were printed on small cards and companies would use these pictures to promote themselves, even if it had nothing to do with baseball.  By 1875 tobacco companies started to feature cards with the leading actresses of the day, boxers, Indian chiefs, and of course baseball players of the newly formed National Baseball League’s in 1876.  The cigarette cards were used to stiffen the package and encouraged people to collect them.  As the sport developed, the cards helped make baseball players household names, as well as promoting the tobacco companies.

Tobacco companies also used in-game promotions to push their tobacco products.  One of the most successful tobacco product was Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco.  Tobacco was already widely used by the players during the games to keep their mouths moist and Bull Durham took advantage of this in their advertising.  In 1912 American Tobacco, owners of Bull Durham smokeless tobacco, set up wooden bull ads in major league stadiums around the U.S.  Any player who could hit the bull was rewarded with a $50 prize.  If a player hit a homer, they received free tobacco.  American Tobacco gave away over $23,400 worth of product and prizes, but according to Wikipedia, “it was only about 5 cents given away to baseball players for every 700 sacks of Bull Durham that were sold.”

Tobacco companies also used billboards in stadiums to promote their brands and logos.  Starting in the 1970s when advertising bans on television and radio went into effect for tobacco products, these billboards in the outfield were seen on television, providing the tobacco companies free advertising on a medium that had previously banned it.

Minor league baseball has banned smokeless tobacco since 1993, yet the majors league players fought placing a similar ban for themselves, that is until 2017 when the new collective bargaining agreement was reached.  New players to the majors won’t be able to dip, however existing players can continue the practice.  Cities that host a major league team have taken it upon themselves to make their stadiums tobacco-free while they waited for tobacco to be banned in the game.  So far almost half of the stadiums have tobacco-free policies.

We understand that as an adult it is your choice whether to use tobacco, but when millions of children watch your actions, it sends a message to them that tobacco is still part of the game.

Click HERE for the Truth Initiative article: “A look at how big tobacco infiltrated baseball”
Picture from Wikipedia: Bull Durham Smokeless Tobacco




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Kick Butts Day 2019!

Kick Butts Day, March 20, 2019, is almost here!  This national day of activism, was started by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in 1996, bringing students, teachers, public health advocates and other community leaders together to “organize events designed to get youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco.”

Did you know that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death here in the U.S. and around the world?  It causes many forms of cancer, as well as heart disease and COPD, and damages nearly every organ in the human body.  Here in the U.S. more than 480,000 people die every year due to their tobacco use.

Did you know that almost 90% of adults start using tobacco as teens or even earlier?  Kick Butts Day draws attention to the tobacco industry and their deceptive marketing practices that encourage kids to start tobacco.   It is our youth and their voices that encourage their peers and others to be tobacco-free and to stand up to the tobacco industry.

Back in 2012, the Surgeon General’s Report called teen tobacco use a “pediatric epidemic,” but the focus has shifted from tobacco to e-cigarettes and vaping.  While current cigarette use among Florida high school students is at 3.6% (middle school use is at 1.3%), current use of vaping at the high school level is much higher at 24.8% (up 651.5% since 2012 and up 58% between 2017-2018) with middle school use at 7.8% (up 387.5% since 2012 and up 44.4% between 2017-2018).  Teens who have ever tried vaping is higher still.  Our teens are still battling an epidemic brought on by the tobacco industry.

It is so important that our youth continue to speak out against tobacco and an industry that is finding new ways to addict them to nicotine.  Support our teens as they use their voices to affect social change in their communities and throughout the United States.  Every day should be Kick Butts Day.

Click HERE for more information on Kick Butts Day.
Graphics from the KickButtsDay.org site.



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FDA proposes new guidelines on flavors but will it be enough?

Fruity, minty or sweet tobacco flavors may soon be missing from e-cigarettes if FDA regulations go into effect.

Vaping has increased dramatically in the past two years in part from the flavors that have made it more appealing to teens, and the proposed FDA guidelines hope to limit access to these nicotine products.  While some flavors will be outright banned, others will need FDA approval before they can be sold.

The e-cigarette industry claims their products are marketed to adults as a cessation aid to help them quit smoking, yet it is the teens who have embraced the products and setting record sales figures.  Approximately 3.6 million teens say they are current e-cigarette users, with 1.5 million teens starting between 2017 and 2018.

One of the most popular devices used by teens is Juul, which has been called the iPhone of vaping devices.  Its slim, flat look resembles a USB flash drive that plugs into your computer when charging and is easily hidden from adults.  Juul also came under fire for their marketing which used young models who looked like teens.  But other e-cigarette companies are equally guilty of making their products attractive to teens.

In the past, the FDA said it wouldn’t review e-cigarette products until at least 2022, long after many were brought to market.  But with the surge in teen use, the FDA has changed its mind.  According to Dr. Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner who will retire at the end of March, “manufacturers and retailers may be subject to FDA enforcement for selling certain flavored (e-cig) products without authorization.”  The agency has given a deadline of August 8, 2021 for applications for approval of flavored products.  Expect to see the market flooded with new flavors.  Flavored, sweet little cigars will also have sale restrictions and new guidelines forcing these products to go under a similar approval process.

The FDA brought much needed attention to the e-cig epidemic that “is addicting a new generation of kids” to nicotine.  But while the steps taken by the FDA may slow the spread of e-cigarette use by teens, they fall short from reversing the skyrocketing teen use which would only come from prohibiting flavors popular among teens.  Our kids will still be able to purchase the flavored products that are keeping them addicted in the first place.  This should be a matter of public health because it will define the future health of our nation.


Click HERE, HERE and HERE for articles used in this blog.



Posted in Cigars, E-Cigarettes, Legal, Nicotine, Tobacco Prevention | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

SAFE Kids Act to restrict ecig flavors

The Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids (SAFE Kids) Act has bipartisan as well as bicameral support as members of both the Senate and the House have come together to crack down on kid-friendly flavorings in e-cigarettes and cigars.  U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-DO-01) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08) are the sponsors for this bill.

Senator Dick Durbin said he was concerned that “powerful e-cigarette companies are winning the war for our children’s health and well-being” by using flavors that appeal to kids in e-cigarettes and cigars.  The high levels of nicotine in the products have effects on teens brains and could create another generation that is addicted to nicotine.  Murkowski stated that while she is “glad the FDA finally took regulatory actions last year,” they should be made into law.

One of the reasons the SAFE Kids Act is so important is that vaping products are the most common form of tobacco/nicotine used by teens.  Adolescence is an important time period of brain development and nicotine use in teens alters brain growth and maturation.  It sets the teen brain up for future addictions and also increases the risk for mental health disorders.  Studies have shown that the majority of teens use a flavored tobacco product or a candy or fruit-flavored vaping product as their first product.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports the SAFE Kids Act as “flavored tobacco products play a key role in causing kids to start and continue using tobacco.  Between 2000 and 2018 cigarette smoking among high school students decreased from 28% to 8%, but with the newer tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, being marketed and sold to children, tobacco use is again increasing.  In the past year alone, high-school use of e-cigarettes has seen a 78% increase while middle school use has increased 48% and flavors are the reason for these increases.

It is important for our lawmakers to protect the health of our youth, and regulating flavors will decrease e-cigarette use in youth.


Click HERE and HERE for the articles used in this blog.


Posted in Big Tobacco, E-Cigarettes, Legal, Tobacco market, Tobacco Prevention | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trinkets and Trash – February 2019

February is the month of romance, and the tobacco industry also shares their brand of love with special advertisements and coupon promotions.  This information comes to us by way of Trinkets and Trash, an online surveillance system that monitors the tobacco industry marketing in various forms of media.

If there is no one special in your life at Valentine’s Day, turn it into a day that you treat yourself with, what else… tobacco.  Cheyenne cigars had red and pink packaging for wild cherry and strawberry flavored cigars.  Djarum didn’t bother showing their product, instead they had a romantic scene of a couple walking a beach at sunset.  And Swisher Sweets promoted their sweet cream flavored cigarillos instead of roses, because everyone know that tobacco breath is so romantic.

If your “bae” doesn’t like cigars, there are other methods to get to his heart, like having cupid shoot him with a can of Stoker’s smokeless.  Do people even use “bae” anymore?  General Snus also hinted you don’t need to be with your “significant other” to enjoy their product.  So much for romance, but then again, how romantic can you be with a lip of dip?  For the e-cig users, Blu surrounded their products with white rose petals, their idea of romance.  And if you don’t want to get caught using a smoking or smokeless device or a tin of tobacco, now there are nicotine “smart” toothpicks to get you that buzz.  Having a nicotine addiction doesn’t sound very smart.

If you want to know what the tobacco industry is up to, sign up for the Trinkets and Trash newsletter than comes out at the beginning of the month with the previous month’s latest ads and messages.

Click HERE for Trinkets and Trash.  All pictures are from their newsletter.



Posted in Cigars, E-Cigarettes, Smokeless tobacco, Tobacco market | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment