As cigarette smoking has declined in Florida and across the country, one of the ways tobacco companies have responded is by introducing a variety of cheap, sweet-flavored cigars that are attractive to children.
Given the proliferation of these products, it isn’t surprising that cigar smoking among Florida youth has climbed over the past decade. In fact, more Florida high school students now smoke cigars than cigarettes according to the 2011 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Florida Department of Health.
What is surprising, however, is that Florida members of Congress have introduced legislation that would make it harder to protect our children from these latest tobacco industry trends. This legislation would exempt many cigars from a landmark 2009 law that gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over all tobacco products.
Among other things, the 2009 law banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes that can be starter products for youth and restricted tobacco marketing and sales to kids. The FDA is still deciding how to regulate cigars. But this legislation would preemptively take authority away from the FDA, which would make it harder for the agency to protect public health and easier for tobacco companies to continue targeting our children.
It’s disappointing that both of Florida’s U.S. senators and 18 of its representatives are sponsoring this harmful legislation. They should withdraw their support.
Proponents claim that the legislation would only apply to premium cigars. But it defines such cigars in a way that could encompass many non-premium cigars with sweet flavors, low prices and colorful packaging.
Another reason cigars are appealing is the myth that they’re not harmful. But the National Cancer Institute has determined that cigar smoking causes cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Congress should not exempt cigars from FDA oversight.
Marshall C. Deason Jr., board member, American Lung Association, Tampa