More than two out of every five middle and high school students who smoke report using either flavored little cigars or flavored cigarettes, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2011 data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey are the first to measure how many American youth are using flavored little cigars and flavored cigarettes.
The study also shows that among youth cigar smokers, almost 60 percent of those who smoke flavored little cigars are not thinking about quitting tobacco use, compared with just over 49 percent among all other cigar smokers.
"Flavored or not, cigars cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems. Flavored little cigars appeal to youth, and the use of these tobacco products may lead to disfigurement, disability, and premature death," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "We need to take comprehensive steps to reduce all tobacco use for all of our youth."
The study found that 35.4 percent of current youth cigarette smokers reported using flavored cigarettes, which could include menthol cigarettes or flavored little cigars that students mistook for flavored cigarettes. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was enacted and prohibited the use of flavors, except menthol, in cigarettes. However, flavored little cigars are still manufactured and sold with candy and fruit flavorings.
"Little cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes," said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. "Many flavored little cigars appear virtually indistinguishable from cigarettes with similar sizes, shapes, filters, and packaging."
In addition to offering a wide variety of flavors that appeal to young people, little cigars are taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes at the state level. Little cigars have become more popular in recent years; sales increased 240 percent from 1997 to 2007, with flavored brands making up almost 80 percent of the market share.
Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. The health consequences of tobacco use include heart disease, multiple types of cancer, pulmonary disease, adverse reproductive effects, and the exacerbation of chronic health conditions. Smoking and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke kill an estimated 443,000 Americans each year. And for every one death, there are 20 people suffering from a smoking-related disease. In addition to the cost in human life, smoking has been estimated to cost $193 billion annually in direct health care expenses and lost productivity. And 99 percent of all smokers start before they’re 26 years old.