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Flavored Cigarettes: The Next Battleground

Critics say the smokes are designed for youngsters; big tobacco denies the charge

SUNDAY, Jan. 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The names sound like they belong on yogurt, chewing gum or candy bars.

But Twista Lime, Warm Winter Toffee and Midnight Berry are new flavors of cigarettes. And critics say they are actually thinly veiled efforts by the U.S. tobacco industry to entice children take up smoking.

Tobacco makers strongly refute that, but the critics have their doubts and advise parents to contact their legislators to urge a ban on the smokes.

It's necessary, experts add, to help convince kids not to take up the habit. That's critical, according to the American Lung Association, because tobacco use primarily begins in early adolescence -- one-third of all smokers had their first cigarette by the age of 14.

Flavored cigarettes date back to about 1999. But the last few years have seen a "big push" in their marketing, said Paul Billings, vice president of national policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

Several states have introduced legislation to ban the flavored smokes, said Billings, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

"We strongly support this legislation," he added.

The timing of the new flavored products is hardly coincidental, a group of Harvard researchers contended in a report in the November/December 2005 issue of the journal Health Affairs.

"The proliferation of new flavored brands comes at a time when advertising and marketing restrictions have made it more difficult to target young smokers," said the researchers, led by Carrie Carpenter, a Harvard School of Public Health research analyst.

She was referring to the terms of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the state attorneys general and major U.S. tobacco manufacturers. The tobacco makers agreed to change the way their products are marketed and pay the states an estimated $206 billion. The companies also agreed to finance a $1.5 billion anti-smoking campaign, open documents previously kept secret, and disband trade groups the attorneys general said conspired to conceal damaging research from the public.

Carpenter's team pored over internal tobacco industry documents as well as U.S. patents, both awarded and pending applications.

"Now we have evidence from the documents that this concept of flavored cigarettes has been associated with new and younger smokers," Carpenter said, referring to what she described as a 1988 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco report, identifying young adult smokers as the company's "most critical strategic need." Because aftertaste was mentioned by young smokers as a concern, one of the methods to counteract the problem is the "pellet technology" used in some flavored products. The pellet is inserted in the filter area to provide for controlled release of the filter, she said.

"There could be health risks associated with the pellet," said Carpenter.

But a spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company said the target for the new product is not minors.

"Our one and only audience, regardless of brand or style, is legal-age adults who have made the decision to smoke," Fred McConnell, manager of communications for R.J. Reynolds, said.

"We don't want children to smoke," he added, "not only because it is illegal to sell to minors in every state, but also because children lack the maturity of judgment to assess the inherent health risks of smoking."

Billings suggests parents warn their underage children about the health risks of smoking, and lobby their lawmakers to outlaw the flavored smokes.

More information

To learn more, visit the American Lung Association.

SOURCES: Carrie Carpenter, MS, research analyst, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Paul Billings, vice president of national policy and advocacy, American Lung Association, Washington, D.C.; Fred McConnell, spokesman, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Winston-Salem, N.C.; November/December 2005, Health Affairs
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