Several states and localities have enacted laws restricting flavored tobacco product sales. These policies vary in strength, but they have effectively reduced sales and youth and young adults use of flavored products.
While most stores comply with flavor restrictions, retailers are trying to circumvent them. Some loopholes are found in menthol-flavored products, sometimes exempt from flavor restriction laws.
What is a flavored cigarette?
A flavored cigarette has an additive, such as menthol or nicotine, that imparts a characterizing flavor. These flavors include sour apple, cherry, grape, cotton candy, root beer float, and many more.
Flavored e-cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products are popular among the youth. They are becoming more well-known in the United States and are touted as safer cigarette alternatives. These products typically have colorful packaging, low prices, and kid-friendly flavors.
Are flavored cigarettes banned? The FDA outlawed flavored cigarettes in 2009, but the sale of other flavored tobacco goods (including e-cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored hookah, and chewing tobacco) has risen ever since. These goods are frequently offered at bargain prices in convenience stores and gas stations.
Young people are particularly prone to trying these products because of the sweet flavors, colorful packaging, and low price point. Often, these flavored tobacco products are more addictive than regular cigarettes and can make it harder to quit.
80% of youth who use tobacco report that they started with a flavored product. The flavors in these products also make them seem more appealing to adults and can entice parents to buy them for their children.
Menthol is a common flavor additive that gives cigarettes a cool and minty taste. The flavor is also thought to have a cooling and painkilling effect that appeals to smokers.
Although federal law prohibits the sale of flavored cigarettes, local laws in some states still allow the sale of menthol-flavored products. However, in June 2022, the FDA announced plans to ban menthol in cigarettes and will hold two public listening sessions about the proposed ban.
The most exciting thing about a flavored e-cigarette is that it can deliver a large amount of nicotine without the harmful effects of smoking regular cigarettes. It can also be used to help smokers quit. It is important because nicotine is addictive and can be challenging to kick habit.
What are the dangers of flavored cigarette use?
The tobacco industry markets cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, blunt wraps, snuff, dip, and snus in many flavors, including candy-like fruit, dessert, cocktail, and savory flavors like cinnamon roll, pina colada, sour apple, and chocolate. This youth-targeted marketing strategy entices kids to try tobacco products, fueling their addiction to nicotine.
These flavors lower the perceived harm, increase social acceptability and promote experimentation with tobacco use. In addition to cigarette use, kids are more likely to experiment with cigars, shisha, and other flavored tobacco products.
Among 12- to 17-year-olds, nearly three-quarters of youth who try a new tobacco product do so with one that is flavored. The resulting tobacco use often leads to smoking and other unhealthy behaviors that can lead to health problems later in life, such as addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
Flavored combustible tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco are more addictive than non-flavored ones because the flavors mask the harshness of the flammable tobacco product. The flavors also make them easier to smoke, which helps youth get hooked on them more quickly.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned all flavored cigarettes, except for menthol, but other tobacco products were unaffected. Since then, many tobacco companies have found creative ways to avoid the ban by selling other flavored tobacco products, such as cigars and shisha.
These flavored products appeal more to youth because they have attractive packaging, sweet flavors, and low cost. But flavored tobacco products are just as dangerous as regular cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products and are more likely to be used by kids.
Tobacco companies add a variety of chemicals, including nicotine, to their flavored products to increase their appeal and palatability. These chemicals have been linked to severe health problems, including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other respiratory diseases.
The FDA has been regulating all combustible tobacco products in the United States for several years, and it has made it clear that it plans to regulate e-cigarettes as well eventually. The agency prioritizes enforcement against non-menthol flavors in cartridge-based e-cigarettes. Still, it has not taken action against other flavored tobacco products such as open-system e-cigarettes, disposable e-cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco.
What is the ban on flavored cigarette use?
Many cities and counties in the United States have enacted laws to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes. These bans are aimed at youth smoking initiation and to reduce tobacco-related disease and death.
In New York City, for example, flavored menthol cigarettes are prohibited in all retail stores except tobacco bars. The law also requires retailers to display a sign indicating the minimum legal age for tobacco sales and to sell only tobacco products clearly labeled as menthol-flavored.
Several localities have also imposed similar restrictions.
These policies can be challenging to enforce, but they are an essential public health tool to reduce flavored tobacco products’ harm. These restrictions must be implemented to prevent youth from accessing flavored products, and retailers take steps to ensure compliance.
One of the most common ways flavored tobacco products are restricted in the United States is to limit their availability within certain distances from schools, playgrounds, and parks. For instance, Contra Costa County, CA, has prohibited the sale of all flavored tobacco products within 1000 feet of schools, gardens, and parks. In addition, some counties require retailers to sell flavored products in minimum pack sizes and at a minimum price, which can reduce youth exposure to flavored products.
Another common approach is restricting flavored tobacco products’ sale to adult-only tobacco specialty stores. Some localities have enacted this restriction.
Other communities have enacted laws prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products to specialty stores, except for those containing mint or menthol. This type of policy is likely more effective than a more limited approach since it prevents the sale of flavored products in all retail locations and makes it more difficult for youth to access them.
Tobacco companies sell more than 6 billion flavored cigars annually, and this market is worth over $4.7 billion at retail.
Flavored cigars are an excellent way to attract and keep youth interested in smoking, mainly black and Hispanic kids. More young people have tried a flavored cigar than a cigarette in the past two years.
According to the FDA, characterizing flavors in cigars – like strawberry, grape, cocoa, and fruit punch – increase their appeal and make cigars easier to use, particularly among adolescents and young adults. The FDA is proposing a ban on these flavors and claiming it will help reduce the number of younger smokers and possibly help current cigar users kick the habit by increasing their chances of success.
However, the proposed rule would do more harm than good, costing tens of billions of dollars in lost sales to U.S. consumers and foreign governments who import or export these products. Also, it would have a chilling effect on the caliber of the goods consumers buy, from low-cost to expensive.
The FDA has a lot of work to do to improve public health and protect Americans from the deadly hazards of tobacco. The agency should enact the most effective measures to minimize tobacco use and related health risks in the U.S.