Why Are So Many Teens Smoking ‘Little Cigars’?

In the first national survey of its kind, the US Centers for Disease Control says that a troubling number of teens are smoking cheap, sweet, flavored “little cigars.” Also called “mini cigars” and “cigarillos,” they come in candy flavors like watermelon, grape, and sour apple. One brand has flavors that sound like frozen yogurts: White Vanilla, Blueberry, and Pink Berry. (Note: not related to upscale fro-yo chain Pinkberry.) 

About 1 in 30 middle and high school kids smoke flavored little cigars, the CDC reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Not surprisingly, the rate increases with age: nearly 1 in 12 high school seniors said they smoked the sweet, small cigars. And while tobacco companies claim they’re not marketing mini cigars to kids, it doesn’t look like they’re working very hard to deter kids, either:

A brand of little cigars called Splitarillos sells single-wrapped cigars in flavors “Da Bomb Blueberry,” “SwagCherry,” and “G6 Grape.” Are you kidding me? Splitarillos also come in a 3-pack so you can “split it with your friends!” Sharing is extra-easy when you can buy 3 for 99 cents.

Like many other brands, Splitarillos is active on social media, posting photos like this to its Facebook feed:

Seriously, that’s not aimed at kids? I feel like if the makers of Fruit Gushers fruit snacks and Wet ‘n’ Wild lipstick got together for a Halloween party, that’s what would end up on Facebook.

“An explosion of cheap, flavored cigars in recent years has driven a two-fold increase in annual sales of cigars in the United States,” says a report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “from 6 billion cigars to more than 13 billion in the last 12 years and changed the demographics of cigar smoking.”

That report, titled Not Your Grandfather’s Cigar, says that high school kids are twice as likely as adults to smoke cigars (13.1 percent compared to 6.6 percent). Young adults age 18 to 24 smoke them at an even higher rate (15.9 percent).

Mini cigars are cheaper than cigarettes for a couple of reasons.  First of all, many states have a significantly lower sales tax rate for cigars than cigarettes. Cigarettes and small cigars have the same federal tax rate ($50.33 per 1,000, or about a nickel for each cigar or cigarette sold), state sales taxes vary widely. State sales taxes on cigarettes  range anywhere from $0.17 (Missouri) to $4.35 (New York). Tobacco company Phillip Morris whines that this adds up to an average sales tax of 55 percent. (Call the waaaahmbulance.) State sales taxes on cigars, on the other hand, range from 1 cent per 10 cigars (Texas) to $2.18 per 10 (New York). Two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, don’t tax cigars at all.

The other reason little cigars are cheap is that they’re sold in smaller packages or as singles. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that cigarettes be sold in packs of at least 20, and it’s illegal to sell “loosies,” or single cigarettes out of a package.

Inexplicably, the FDA doesn’t regulate cigars, which means cigars are exempt from federal tobacco regulations that limit advertising. The American Cancer Society also points out that cigars aren’t required to go through the Federal Trade Commission’s testing program that reports the amount of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide in cigarettes. Cigars don’t have to be tested, and even if companies did test those levels for cigars, they wouldn’t have to report their findings to a federal agency.

Interestingly, one reason for the increase in popularity of flavored little cigars may be the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which in 2009 gave the FDA the authority to ban flavored cigarettes (except for menthol). Since the FDA doesn’t regulate cigars, the act didn’t ban flavored little cigars.

When parents talk to their kids about smoking, they should definitely talk about these mini cigars as well as cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

“Flavored little cigars are basically a deception,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told NBC News. “They’re marketed like cigarettes, they look like cigarettes, but they’re not taxed or regulated like cigarettes. And they’re increasing the number of kids who smoke.”

Cigars are just as unhealthy as cigarettes, says the American Cancer Society.

“Cigar smokers are 4 to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus than non-smokers,” says the American Cancer Society. “For those who inhale, cigar smoking appears to be linked to death from cancer of the pancreas and bladder, too.”

(Photo Credits: (Twitter/Swisher CigarsCampaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Facebook/Splitarillos, Juicy Jay’s)
(via: NBC News)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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