TUESDAY, Sept. 22, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Young people who enjoy a hint of vanilla, berry or chocolate when they light up are about to have their favorite smokes snuffed out. A new federal law banning fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes takes effect Sept. 22.
The prohibition is part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, legislation that grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law June 22.
Studies show that flavored cigarettes, which have been around for about a decade, disproportionately appeal to America's youth. Thus, banning the manufacture and sale of kid-friendly flavored cigarettes is a critical step toward deterring young smokers, health advocates said.
"Almost 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking as teenagers. These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in a news release. "The FDA will utilize regulatory authority to reduce the burden of illness and death caused by tobacco products to enhance our nation's public health."
Gregg Haifley, associate director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Washington, D.C., said, "Banning candy and fruit flavorings in cigarettes can have a significant effect on the reduction of initiation of smoking among youth, as well as reducing the number of youth who go on to regular, daily use."
The network estimated that 3,500 children a day pick up their first cigarette and 1,000 of them become addicted smokers.
"This is truly a case of an ounce of prevention can prevent a future epidemic," added Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"Flavored tobacco products are clearly intended to introduce a new generation of children to tobacco," he said.
However, Myers said he's concerned that some manufacturers are attempting to circumvent the ban by distributing flavored cigarettes marketed as "mini-cigars."
"The very fact that the manufacturers are doing this is a demonstration of the need for the legislation," he said.
In a letter to the tobacco industry last week, the FDA clarified the new law and cautioned that the ban applies to all tobacco products that meet the definition of a cigarette, "even if they are not labeled as 'cigarettes' or are labeled as cigars or as some other product."
In the face of the looming federal prohibition and the threat of state litigation, the flavored cigarette market has significantly retrenched in recent years, health advocates noted.
In October 2006, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company agreed to stop marketing cigarettes with candy, fruit and alcohol flavors under an agreement with attorneys general in 40 states. The company no longer makes blends such as "Twista Lime" or "Kauai Kolada," a pineapple and coconut-flavored cigarette, spokesman David Howard confirmed.
"Youth should not smoke; that is a guiding principle of this company," Howard said. "The bottom line is the brands that we produce are marketed for and intended for and sold to adult tobacco consumers."
One tobacco industry expert estimated that flavored cigarettes now account for just 1 percent of the cigarette market.
In addition to banning candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act:
- Eliminates the use of the terms "light," "low" and "mild" on tobacco products.
- Authorizes the FDA to create a new Center for Tobacco Products to oversee tobacco regulation in the United States.
- Requires tobacco manufacturers and importers to fully disclose information about ingredients and additives in tobacco products.
- Implements regulations banning youth-focused marketing of tobacco products.
- Requires large, graphic warning labels on the health risks of smoking.
R.J. Reynolds and several other companies recently filed a lawsuit challenging certain marketing provisions of the new law. The suit, filed in federal district court in Bowling Green, Ky., does not challenge the flavored cigarette ban, nor does it challenge the FDA's authority to regulate the industry.
The American Cancer Society has more on tobacco use by children.