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F.D.A. Bans Sale of Flavored Cigarettes

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NYTIMES: Federal health officials Tuesday banned the sale of flavored cigarettes and hinted that they may soon take action against the far-larger market of flavored little cigars and cigarillos, the first major crackdown on cigarettes since the Food and Drug Administration was given authority to regulate tobacco.

The ban is intended to end the sale of tobacco products with chocolate, vanilla, clove and other flavorings that lure children and teenagers into smoking. Menthol products are as yet unaffected.

The ban comes three months after President Obama signed legislation giving the F.D.A. the authority for the first time to regulate tobacco products.

"These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, in announcing the ban.

In 2004, 17-year-old smokers were more than three times as likely as those over the age of 25 to smoke flavored cigarettes, and they viewed flavored cigarettes as safer. Among the more famous flavored cigarette introductions was that of Camel Exotic Blends by R.J. Reynolds, which had such flavors as Twista Lime, Kauai Kolada and Warm Winter Toffee.

"Banning the marketing and use of strawberry, chocolate and other flavored cigarettes will help slow the rate of addiction among young smokers, preventing disease and saving millions in health care costs down the line," said Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Every day, 3,600 children and teens start smoking and 1,100 become daily smokers, studies show.

The legislation giving the F.D.A. regulatory power over cigarettes required the agency to ban flavored cigarettes but did not clearly define what constituted a cigarette.

In a press conference Tuesday, agency officials were deliberately vague when asked whether the ban would apply to flavored little cigars like Swisher Sweets or cigarillos like Black & Mild, which can have flavors like apple and chocolate.

F.D.A. agents visited a tobacco store in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday and told the owner that the flavoring ban included cigarillos like Black & Mild, according to Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America.

Another cigar store owner told Mr. Sharp that an F.D.A. representative called last week to tell her to remove every flavored tobacco product from her shelves that "looked like a cigarette" but could not define what that meant, Mr. Sharp said.

In a letter to manufacturers, the agency said the ban applied to all cigarette-like tobacco products even if they "are labeled as cigars or as some other product." And in another document to manufacturers, the agency wrote that it is "examining options for regulating both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes."

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, hailed Tuesday's announcement and said that it clearly applied to flavored little cigars that are virtually identical to cigarettes.

"The F.D.A. demonstrated that they're serious about enforcing the ban on flavored cigarettes and serious about preventing tobacco companies from circumventing that ban with other tobacco products that appeal to children," Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Sharp of the cigar association also praised the announcement and said the agency clearly did not intend the ban to apply to little cigars and cigarillos..

"We feel this should go a long way to clearing up any confusion in the marketplace", Mr. Sharp said.

David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said the confusion benefits no one.

"It's hard to understand," Mr. Howard said. "We need clear and timely guidance so all of us can work together so that we can understand what we need to be doing."

An R.J. Reynolds subsidiary sells small cigars, which look like brown cigarettes, but Mr. Howard said that no one would confuse small cigars with cigarettes.

"They are not cigarettes," he said.

The confusion surrounding the ban results in part from the tight timelines that Congress inserted into the tobacco legislation. Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the F.D.A.'s tobacco center, has been the on the job only a week and has barely begun hiring staff. But the ban on flavored cigarettes had to go into effect 90 days after the legislation was signed, and so it did.

The distinction between cigarettes and cigars has long revolved around the wrapping. Cigarettes are made of tobacco wrapped in paper, and cigars are made of tobacco wrapped in tobacco or paper constituted from tobacco. The tobacco inside the products also generally differs.

While cigarette sales are declining about 4 percent annually, those of cigars and cigarillos have been steadily rising in part because taxes and regulations of cigars are less onerous than those on cigarettes.

Dr. Deyton was asked several times if Tuesday's ban applied to any little cigars or cigarillos. "According to the law, if something is wrapped in a tobacco leaf, that would not be considered," he said and then stopped and added: "Hold on just a second."

After a delay, Catherine Lorraine, a lawyer in the agency's tobacco center, got on the call and said that if consumers believe a product is a cigarette, then the law defines it as a cigarette no matter how it is wrapped or labeled.

"We will be looking at products on an individual basis to determine if it meets that aspect of the legislation," Ms. Lorraine said.

Brian M. Mulholland, general manager of Georgetown Tobacco, said his store got rid of its clove cigarettes two weeks ago. Flavored cigarettes comprised less than 5 percent of the store's sales, and some of those who smoked flavored cigarettes have switched to cigars, he said.

"It's been an opportunity to educate the consumer on switching," Mr. Mulholland said. "They're making the transition."

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
End User September 23, 2009, 8:09 AM

The government is taking away our freedom of choice. (Wasn’t that a devo song?)

Just watch and see what happens to the digital smokes (e-cigs) now.

birdsfly September 23, 2009, 8:26 AM

Unless they are outright making smoking illegal they should not be allowed to do this. So young adults like to smoke flavored cigarettes, they are adults! And as for teens they should just make it illegal for people under 18 to smoke and get over it!

SW WA September 23, 2009, 8:52 AM

Why not spend the time on money on the DRUGS that come across the border?

End User September 23, 2009, 9:58 AM

So based on that logic, is the FDA gonna ban flavored condoms now because it is thought to appeal to children?

t4 September 23, 2009, 9:59 AM

I quite agree they are adults - the same type of adults whose lifestyle choices create the overuse and problems with healthcare. The question is ethically how much does the govt let people have choices if they come back ten years later and want tax dollars to pay for self induced ailments. This is at the heart of all those who the govt owes them something and they have rights but no responsibilites.

Ben September 23, 2009, 10:24 AM

Well then i guess they need to start doing something about all the fast food chains and snack companies.

Child-hood obesity is a large problem and a health care concern.

bob September 23, 2009, 11:31 AM

the government has no right to tell citizens what we can and cant buy. Soon enough they will tell us what kind of liquids are safe to drink. only water.

Frank September 23, 2009, 11:58 AM

We might as well have a gigantic Constitution burning party. The Federal Goverment was NEVER meant to have these far reaching powers that allow them to be to intrusive into our lives.

Maggie September 23, 2009, 12:06 PM

I’m well over 21 & enjoy a clove cig once in awhile, but now I can’t have them because kids are smoking them? I have news for the FDA—most kids around here smoke Camels. Maybe they should ban beer—I see kids drinking beer too. What about all the internet porn kids have access to? Oh yeah to regulate that would violate freedom of speech?

James September 23, 2009, 12:28 PM

make it illegal for teenagers to smoke? thats what they did to drugs and hard drug addiction skyrocketed genius! I just quit smoking and I confess that I loved cloves. I do feel however that antismoking campaigns have been so succesful that they shouldn’t bother regulating the tobacco industry to death! I quit after smoking for only six and a half years, can’t you just trust that anti smoking campaigns really have made enormous progress without destroying a major industry? for me smoking was a choice, any drug is a choice, cigarettes are one of the worst drug choices you can make, they’re at least as deadly as most hard drugs and more addictive, but they are still a choice. people should be able to make their own choices, even bad ones.

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