WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 15, 2017 – As fewer kids smoke traditional cigarettes, tobacco companies are enticing them with a booming market of sweet-flavored tobacco products, especially electronic cigarettes and cigars, according to a report issued today by five leading public health organizations.
The report warns that these candy- and fruit-flavored products are putting a new generation of kids at risk of nicotine addiction and the serious health harms that result from tobacco use. It calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit all flavored tobacco products and urges Congress to reject legislation that would weaken the FDA’s authority, especially over e-cigarettes and cigars.
While a 2009 federal law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, prohibited candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, manufacturers in recent years have introduced a fast-growing assortment of flavored non-cigarette tobacco products. Studies show:
- E-cigarettes are available in more than 7,700 flavors, with hundreds more added every month.
- The number of unique cigar flavor names more than doubled from 2008 to 2015, from 108 to 250.
- Sales of flavored cigars have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008, and flavored cigars made up more than half (52.1 percent) of the U.S. cigar market in 2015.
The report, titled “The Flavor Trap: How Tobacco Companies Are Luring Kids with Candy-Flavored E-Cigarettes and Cigars,” was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Sweet flavors take the products “seem like they belong in a candy store or ice cream parlor,” the report states. Flavor examples cited include gummy bear, cotton candy, peanut butter cup, cookies ‘n cream and pop rocks for e-cigarettes and chocolate, wild berry, watermelon, lemonade and cherry dynamite for cigars. One study found over 20 different types of unicorn-flavored e-cigarette liquids, such as Unicorn Puke, often paired with cartoon imagery.
Flavors have helped fuel the popularity of these products among kids. Youth use of e-cigarettes soared from 2011 to 2015, surpassing use of regular cigarettes, and more high school boys now smoke cigars than cigarettes, surveys show. A government study found that 81 percent of kids who have ever used tobacco products started with a flavored product, including 81 percent who have ever tried e-cigarettes and 65 percent who have ever tried cigars. Youth also cite flavors as a major reason for their current use of non-cigarette tobacco products, with 81.5 percent of youth e-cigarette users and 73.8 percent of youth cigar users saying they used the products “because they come in flavors I like.” Research has found that flavored tobacco products are more likely to be used by youth and young adults than by older tobacco users.
“Tobacco products simply shouldn’t be sold in flavors that appeal to kids, let alone in thousands of flavors that make them seem fun and harmless,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “When you see a gummy bear e-cigarette or a cherry dynamite cigar, there’s no doubt these products are aimed at kids. Our report makes abundantly clear why Congress must reject the proposals to weaken FDA oversight of products like e-cigarettes and cigars, including the flavored products that have flooded the market in recent years. Congress shouldn’t be helping tobacco companies market candy-flavored products to kids.”
In August 2016, the FDA implemented a new rule extending its jurisdiction to e-cigarettes, cigars and other previously unregulated tobacco products. Two bills before Congress would greatly weaken the FDA’s authority:
- One bill would limit FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market, including the many flavored products introduced in recent years, and exempt these products from a critical scientific review to determine their impact on public health, including their appeal to kids. This bill would make it much harder for the FDA to remove flavored products from the market and, by making the current products the industry standard, much easier for manufacturers to introduce new ones in the future.
- A second bill would exempt what the tobacco industry calls “traditional large and premium cigars,” but defines such cigars so broadly that it could also exempt some cheap, machine-made, flavored cigars that are widely used by kids.
Instead of weakening the FDA’s authority, today’s report calls on the FDA to prohibit all flavored tobacco products, finding that “there is more than sufficient scientific evidence to support such a prohibition.”
While the U.S. has made tremendous progress in reducing youth cigarette smoking, current e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015, according to the government’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, which has tracked youth e-cigarette use the longest of any survey. Another national survey, the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, shows the first evidence of a decline in youth use of e-cigarettes, but e-cigarettes continue to be the most-used tobacco product among kids. Recent surveys have also shown that more high school boys now smoke cigars than cigarettes – 14 percent vs. 11.8 percent in the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
“As pediatricians, we do everything in our power to ensure that all children have the opportunity to grow up healthy and free from addiction to tobacco and nicotine. Addressing the threat of tobacco, no matter the form it takes, is imperative to meet that goal,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Fernando Stein, MD, FAAP. “Coming in flavors like cotton candy and gummy bear, it is no surprise that e-cigarettes and their highly-concentrated liquid nicotine refills have become popular among youth. The Academy will continue to urge Congress and the FDA to support and strengthen efforts that protect children from dangerous tobacco products.”
“Thousands of fruit- and candy-flavored e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products continue to be dangerously attractive and popular among youth, “said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Preserving the FDA’s authority to regulate all tobacco products is crucial to protecting the health and safety of the American people and preventing our kids from starting on a path to tobacco addiction.”
“As this new report reinforces, the tobacco industry is relentless in its pursuit to recruit the next generation of addicted users, and at an early age – exploiting new technology and appealing flavors to seal their deadly deal,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “And young people are not the only ones being manipulated. Flavored tobacco attracts people of all ages, burdening users for a lifetime of health consequences like cardiovascular disease. Proposed legislation threatens to weaken public health protections for these newly deemed tobacco products, including flavored cigars, making it easier for manufacturers to continue targeting children and adults alike with tempting flavors. This is unconscionable. Congress must prioritize protecting Americans, especially children, from taking up this undeniably deadly habit.”
“As this report clearly demonstrates, alarmingly, kid-friendly flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy, chocolate and cherry dynamite are enticing our children to use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, and setting them up for a lifetime of addiction to tobacco products,” said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer. “Congress needs to protect kids from these highly addictive and harmful products, not give the tobacco industry a sweetheart deal by allowing these products to be grandfathered in and bypass FDA review.”
Full report (PDF)
Downloadable charts and photos