WASHINGTON, D.C.—With candy- and fruit-flavored cigars rising in prevalence and popularity among teenagers, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown this week joined a group of senators to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of flavorings in cigars. In a letter sent to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the senators noted that an estimated 1.8 million high school students and 475,000 middle school students smoke cigars, and that cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals contained in cigarettes.
“Tobacco companies embody the adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ From Joe Camel to tobacco candies and now flavored cigars, Big Tobacco is always trying to find new ways to hook young, impressionable customers—and those customers are our children,” Brown said. “The FDA has yet to issue regulations on cigars, and in the meantime, more and more teens are trying flavored cigars and cigarillos. With the same addictive and harmful chemicals contained in cigarettes, cigars pose a grave threat to our children’s health—and that’s why the FDA needs to step in and close the loophole that allows these ‘cancer sticks’ to go unregulated.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigar smoking is the second-most-common form of tobacco use among youth, after cigarettes. A study in Ohio found cigars to be the most popular tobacco product among high school students. In 2008, 57.2 percent of high school students had used some form of tobacco products in their lifetime, as had 29.1 percent of middle school students. According to the same study, 15.9 percent of Ohio high school students were current users of cigars.
Brown, while a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, helped author a provision in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act focusing on smokeless “tobacco candies.” The amendment, introduced with Senator Merkley, required the new Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to immediately study the public health effects of tobacco candy, specifically on children, and report to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on their findings. The FDA would then be tasked with acting in the best interest of children nationwide. In November, following a U.S. District Court decision that halts the implementation of the FDA’s new graphic warning labels on cigarette packages, Brown urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately appeal the decision. The labels were set to take effect next fall.
In addition to Brown, the letter was signed by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The full text is below.
The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
Dear Commissioner Hamburg:
We write to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue regulations prohibiting the use of flavorings in cigars. As teenagers turn to cigars instead of cigarettes, these products pose a serious threat to public health and threaten to undermine the important public health protections of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
Flavored cigars are putting children’s health at risk and increasing nicotine addiction and tobacco use among young people. More than 13 million Americans smoke cigars, including an estimated 1.8 million high school students and 475,000 middle school students. Cigars contain the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals contained in cigarettes, and public health experts have warned that cigars are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. Cigar smoking is linked to numerous cancers including cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, and esophagus. Cigars with candy-like flavorings such as strawberry, watermelon, vanilla and chocolate attract kids to smoking and help hook them on this addictive habit.
Congress helped protect young people from the harmful effects of tobacco by banning flavored cigarettes. But as youth cigarette use has fallen, cigars have become more popular among adolescents. In some states, cigar use surpasses cigarette use among high school males.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gives FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products and their flavorings, but FDA has not asserted its authority over cigars. On July 7th, the Department of Health and Human Services indicated in its semiannual regulatory agenda that FDA intended to issue this regulation in October of this year. Since FDA missed its October deadline, an estimated 2 billion cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars have been sold without appropriate regulation.
We urge FDA to immediately close the current regulatory loopholes and prohibit flavored cigars in the interest of public health.