For years, I assumed that most people didn’t start smoking until adulthood, when they were old enough to be aware of the risks. Apparently, I was wrong. Almost 70 percent of adult smokers actually began smoking before age 18, and most of them first tried tobacco products as early as age 11!
One group of sweet-tasting tobacco products is grabbing a lot of attention from the youth market. They are flavored little cigars—inexpensive, cigarette-size products that come in flavors such as grape, chocolate and strawberry. The sales of little cigars increased 240 percent between 1997 and 2007, with flavored ones dominating 80 percent of the market. A recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that among middle and high school smokers, 40 percent considered flavored little cigars and flavored cigarettes their preferred form of tobacco.
The federal government did pass a bill in 2009 (the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act) to ban flavored cigarettes (except menthol) in an attempt to discourage youth from smoking. But the restrictions didn’t specifically include little cigars—and the federal government and most state governments have chosen not to regulate them yet—even though these little cigars carry the same health risks as cigarettes.
The study also noted that almost 60 percent of those who smoke flavored little cigars do not say they want to quit, compared to 49 percent of all other cigar smokers. And for some reason, the little cigars are taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes and therefore can often be purchased more cheaply than cigarettes.
The 2009 bill was a great step in attempting to reduce the number of youth smokers, but let’s not stop there. There is no reason little cigars should get special treatment. All regulations and enforcements under the Tobacco Control Act should be applicable to them. Anything less than that is simply distasteful.