Flavored cigars are aimed at kids

it's time for Maryland to ban them

March 17, 2010|By Avery M. Blank and Julie S. Siegel

Peach, mango, and chocolate are not just some of our favorite ice cream flavors. Rather, they are the new generation of smokers' favorite cigar flavors. Who are these smokers? More likely than not, they are kids.

What should be done about the growing trend of kids using flavored tobacco products? Recognizing that tobacco companies target and entice teenagers by offering products in sweet and sassy flavors, Congress passed a law last June banning the sale of flavored cigarettes and allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take additional action. There is nothing different about the tobacco companies' motive when it comes to flavored cigars -- they use the same tricks to market these products to youth. While the FDA may ultimately decide to ban flavored cigars, Maryland need not await federal action. Knowing the impact flavored cigars have on youth smoking, the General Assembly should prohibit the sale of these addictive and harmful products by passing Senate Bill 973, sponsored by Sen. Richard Madaleno.

SB 973 aims to counter the growing number of minors who purchase cigars that have candy-like flavors, such as cookie dough, chocolate chip and pink lip gloss. These cigars cost as little as 80 cents, an easy purchase for a child to make with his weekly allowance. Can you imagine an adult lighting up a grape-flavored Phillies Blunt, sold in a bright purple plastic tube resembling a candy package? Adults primarily smoke premium cigars, which are exempt from this bill.

Preventing a generation of children from starting a lifetime habit of smoking will result in a vast decrease in the number of adult smokers, as about 90 percent of adult smokers started by the time they were 18. Indeed, flavored cigars have a heavy influence among local children. Out of more than 1,500 Baltimore teens interviewed by high school students working with the Community Law in Action program, 35 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls have tried flavored cigars. More than 10 years ago, tobacco companies signed the Master Settlement Agreement, which forbade them from marketing tobacco products to children.

Instead of being resigned to losing this demographic, however, tobacco companies never lost their resolve, and continue to aggressively market their flavored cigars to kids with the goal of luring them into a world of smoking. SB 973 aims to fight the tobacco companies by removing these dangerous, addictive and deceptive products from the shelves.

Avery M. Blank and Julie S. Siegel are students at the University of Maryland School of Law who work for the Center for Tobacco Regulation.

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