Using new powers recently granted by Congress, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a ban on all flavored cigarettes on Sept. 22. FDA officials touted the ban as a way to lower the number of teen smokers and suggested that flavored cigarettes were luring kids into a “lifetime addiction.“
Discouraging kids and teens from smoking is always a great goal, but there are problems with this particular approach.
Flavored cigarettes make up a miniscule share of the tobacco market in the U.S. A Kretek International spokesperson told The California Aggie that clove cigarettes are less than two-tenths of one percent of all cigarettes smoked in the U.S. If this is the case, targeting flavored cigarettes won’t accomplish much.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of teen smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 choose menthol cigarettes, which the FDA excluded from its ban. Past research has shown that adolescents who smoke menthol cigarettes daily enjoy smoking more and try to quit less often than nonmenthol adolescent smokers.
If anything is to be banned to prevent kids from getting addicted to nicotine, it should be menthol cigarettes.
Moreover, the idea that kids are being enticed to smoke by flavored cigarettes is not based on solid evidence. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 17-year-olds were far more likely to smoke flavored cigarettes than older smokers. However, that study focused on American-made cigarettes that were voluntarily taken off the market by the tobacco companies later that year.
Most of the flavored cigarettes left on the market after 2006 were imports from an Indonesian tobacco company, Kretek International. These were much more expensive and more difficult to find than the American-made cigarettes, so there’s reason to believe the 2006 study did not reflect reality for young smokers in 2008 or 2009. Moreover, there is no scientific evidence showing that young smokers who choose flavored cigarettes are any more likely to become addicted than those who choose regular or menthol cigarettes.
The fewer adolescent smokers there are, the better, but an outright ban on flavored cigarettes for everyone is not a fair or an effective way of achieving this goal.