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Opinion | Flavored cigars threaten our children’s health

The concept is simple: flavors significantly increase the appeal of cigars to youth and young adults.

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Every day across the country, 1,200 children try a cigar for the first time. Data show that flavors are a major reason why this happens.

Varieties like wild berry, watermelon and banana split make it clear that the tobacco industry is trying to hook young people with enticing flavors. After all, flavors are added to these harmful products to disguise the harshness and bitterness of the tobacco.

According to one study, flavor chemicals used in candy and children’s drink mixes are also used in flavored tobacco products, making them taste like cherry, grape and other fruit flavored treats that kids enjoy.

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry’s strategy is working. Data show that high school students smoke cigars at a comparable rate to cigarettes, and high school males smoke them at a slightly higher rate.

Flavored cigars are also popular with young adults, with more 18–25-year-olds trying cigars for the first time than cigarettes. Like those under 18, more than 60 percent of young adults start smoking cigars with a flavored version. In fact, data show that while some older adults also use flavored cigars, use of these products decreases with age.

As a neuropsychologist and clinical neuroscientist, I have seen throughout my career the consequences that tobacco use, especially when starting early in life, can have on my patients’ brain health and overall well-being. Cigars, just like cigarettes, are dangerous and can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer. 

In 2009, the Tobacco Control Act banned flavored cigarettes other than menthol. Tobacco companies quickly came up with a strategy to circumvent this new law by rolling out many new flavors of cigars. These actions resulted in nearly double the sales of flavored cigars and increased youth cigar use.

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And when it comes to flavored cigars, data show a stronger likelihood of continued, frequent and regular use, when compared to non-flavored cigars. More long-term customers equal more long-term profits.

This past April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced proposals to remove menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars from the market, a truly momentous step toward keeping these harmful products away from our nation’s kids. In these plans, FDA notes that prohibiting flavors in cigars would reduce the number of youth and adults who start smoking and become regular smokers. I couldn’t agree more.

The concept is simple: flavors significantly increase the appeal of cigars to youth and young adults. They make cigars easier to use and increase the likelihood that young cigar users will continue to experiment with these products, resulting in regular use. Eliminating flavors from these products will decrease the allure of cigars, particularly among young people.

Our brains are truly remarkable. They are at the core of our ability to think, to remember, to communicate, to recognize those that we love. It is for this reason that we must protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from the harm caused by tobacco products and keep them out of the hands of our younger generations.

If even a small fraction of flavored cigars users quit, or youth and young adults don’t start, there will be a substantial benefit to the health of our nation. With each day that goes by, we’re allowing more and more children to begin using these deadly products and exponentially more to continue using them. Along with advocates across the country, I urge the FDA to follow through—and fast—with strong rules that would remove menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars from the market for good.

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