How Tobacco Companies Use Regulatory Loopholes To Get Kids Hooked On Flavored Cigars

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On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a new report finding that more than 35 percent of middle and high school students who smoke say they use flavored “little cigars” and cigarettes. But these products are only legal thanks to regulatory loopholes that let tobacco companies sell flavored tobacco that appeals to younger Americans.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which (among other things) bans all flavored cigarettes other than menthol. But the law doesn’t extend that ban to cigars, little cigars, and “cigarillos” — and it’s exceedingly simple to turn a cigarette into any one of the three.

The major difference between a cigarette and a cigar is that the former is a roll of tobacco wrapped inside of paper or another non-tobacco substance, whereas the latter is tobacco wrapped up in leaf tobacco or another tobacco derivative. So tobacco companies can transform an illegal, flavored cigarette into a perfectly legal smoking product by changing its wrapping and making small adjustments to its weight. This can prove lucrative since little cigars are taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes. Manufacturers can even sell them in cigarette-style packs of 20 that advertise their flavors and may wind up in children’s hands.

“Little cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, 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.”

What makes the new report particularly alarming is its finding that kids who use these flavored products are 22 percent more likely to say they have no intention of quitting than those who smoke regular cigarettes. That may also shed some light on why 80 percent of the small cigar market is made up of flavored products.

Of course, these cigarette alternatives are just as harmful as their plainer counterparts. “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 Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement.