FDA Bans Flavored Cigarettes

Feds' ban on non-menthol flavors takes effect across U.S.

By Lita Beck
|  Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009  |  Updated 4:06 PM CDT
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FDA Kisses Non-Menthol Flavors Goodbye

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Smokers around the country will be have to stick to menthol or tobacco-flavored cigarettes after Tuesday.

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Would be hipsters on college campuses around the country won't be puffing on clove cigarettes and strawberry bidis anymore.

A federal ban on flavored cigarettes took effect Tuesday. But the ban doesn't include menthol, which is by far the most popular cigarette flavor, or other flavored tobacco products.

Federal authorities say cigarettes that taste like spices, fruit or candy are more appealing to kids and young people.

"Candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular tobacco users," said Dr. Lawrence R. Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

Deyton said 17-year-old smokers are three times as likely to use flavored cigarettes as smokers older than age 25.

And FDA officials also said almost 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking as teenagers. They said the ban will help stop more than 3,600 young people who start smoking daily.

But California-based Kretek International Inc., which imports clove cigarettes, says flavored cigarettes only make up "less than 2/10ths of 1 percent of all the cigarettes sold."

Menthol flavoring is used in about 25 percent of all cigarettes sold. And menthol smokes are getting "increasingly popular" with teenage smokers, USA Today reported.

A study has even found that menthol cigarettes are harder to quit than regular tobacco cigarettes, the newspaper reported.

Mike Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, said it doesn't make much sense to exempt the most popular flavor from a ban.

"You know, you need to be consistent," he told NPR. "If it's so important that we ban cigarette flavorings, then ban them."

Of course, Phillip Morris USA -- which supports the federal ban on flavored cigarettes -- is unlikely to get behind a ban on menthol.

Franeta Phelps, a smoker in Dallas, said she is fine with the flavor ban because it will protect children.

"They will be more likely to smoke cigarettes, want to smoke cigarettes, to know the flavor or just to see if it's cool, and how it tastes, so yes, I'm fine with that," she said. "I'm OK with that."

In the meantime, a fight is brewing over the difference between a cigarette and a cigar.

Kretek has switched to clove-flavored cigars that are filtered and close to the size of a cigarette. They are wrapped in tobacco rather than paper, the traditional distinction between cigarettes (which are wrapped in paper) and cigars (which are wrapped in tobacco or paper made out of tobacco).

But an FDA lawyer said in a conference call with reporters that anything that consumers consider cigarettes will be defined as cigarettes, the New York Times reported.

In June, President Barack Obama signed a law that allows the FDA regulate the industry. Its authority includes the ability to ban certain products, reduce nicotine in tobacco products and block labels such "low tar" and "light." Tobacco companies also will be required to cover their cartons with large, graphic warnings.

The law won't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency will be able to regulate what goes into tobacco products, make public the ingredients and prohibit marketing campaigns, especially those geared toward children.

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