More than two out of five middle and high school students who smoke report using flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published in the November Journal of Adolescent Health.
According to the CDC, the report, which used data from the 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), is the first to measure how many teens in the U.S. are using flavored little cigars or cigarettes.
“Flavored or not, cigars cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems,” said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a news release. “Flavored little cigars appeal to youth and the use of these tobacco products may lead to disfigurement, disability and premature death,” he cautioned.
Researchers analyzed the results of the NYTS survey of 19,000 students in grades 6 through 12 and found 35.4 percent reported using menthol cigarettes or flavored little cigars. Usage was higher among older teens than tweens.
In addition, the study reported that among youth cigar smokers, almost 60 percent of those who smoked flavored little cigars were not thinking about quitting tobacco use, compared with just over 49 percent of all other cigar smokers.
The investigators noted that the fruit and candy flavors of the little cigars mask the harsh taste of tobacco products, making them more appealing to young people.
Despite the sweet flavoring, “little cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said in the news release.
Compounding the problem is the similarity between flavored little cigars and cigarettes that make them virtually indistinguishable from each other in size, shape, filters and packaging. And although flavored cigarettes were banned in the U.S. in 2009 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), menthol cigarettes were exempted and flavored cigars were not covered at all.
“The FDA should act promptly to assert regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including cigars,” Matt Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told USA TODAY.
“The FDA must close this loophole,” urged Meyer.