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Washington lawmaker introduces flavored tobacco ban

Washington tobacco-lovers could have to stock up as certain flavored tobacco products could be banned across Washington very soon.

According to Senate Bill 5380, considered last week in Olympia, certain types of tobacco products would be banned throughout the state, a measure that supporters claim will prevent children from trying tobacco, but opponents admit will restrict freedom of choice and harm the economy.

ban on flavored tobacco products

“Restricting tobacco products which are especially appealing to adolescents, such as flavored tobacco, is a vital step in preventing all children from trying tobacco”, claimed Mary Selecky, state Secretary of Health.

She stated minors are interested in tobacco products that smell and taste sweet and those who begin consuming tobacco before the age of 18 are more likely to consume tobacco further on, increasing the expenses on health care in the state.

Under the bill, all tobacco products, which have a certain flavor or aroma, excluding menthol or natural tobacco, or those tobacco products, which are selling in dissolvable form would be banned. The ban also demands all tobacco products to not be displayed so that they are not directly available to the customers and would permit counties to adopt tobacco ordinances that are more rigorous than the ones adopted on state level.

The measure’s fiscal note states the approval of the bill would result in the loss of tax revenue of approximately $20million for the state treasury in the next two years, however supporters of the measure claim public health benefits would more than offset the loss of tax revenue.

According to a research conducted last year, every $1 spent on tobacco prevention programs during the last decade returned as $5 saved on healthcare expenses, including the costs to hospitals and patients, not only savings to the state.

Local owners of tobacco businesses stated they have been dealing with many restrictions and bans already and the lawmakers should concentrate efforts on enforcing current legislations, instead of adopting new ones.

Washington Retail Association spokesman Mark Johnson admitted that if passed the bill would be especially damaging to small businesses, who depend on the earnings generated by tobacco sales.

Jeffrey Packer, who runs a tobacco shop in Tacoma stated the bill would destroy his business, as it would reduce the profits and restrict freedom of choice of adult smokers across the state.

“The bill puts in jeopardy personal freedom of adult to select the activity they prefer,” Packer added.
During the hearing, Republican Senators from several Senate Committees supported Parker’s arguments.

“I believe the answer is very simple,” Sen. Curtis King, said about the ban on flavored tobacco. “Instead of outlawing a product, why don’t we simply require it to not be displayed in the stores?”

Supporters of the bill, that include several anti-smoking organizations, such as American Cancer Society, and American Lung Foundation, stated flavored tobacco products sometimes have a direct appeal to minors, particularly the products that have fruit or chocolate flavor.

Teen smokers Prefer Menthol Smokes

In conformity with the latest annual report presented by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the rate of adolescent and adult smokers who switch to menthol cigarettes is currently on a rise. Many public health groups said they have been highly concerned by the growing figures, because menthol flavoring is the only additive not included in the federal ban on flavored cigarettes, which came into force last year.

Young girls smoking

According to the report, menthol category constitutes almost 25 percent of the $70 billion-per-year tobacco market in the U.S. The leading position in menthol cigarette market belongs to Lorillard Inc. maker of Newport, number one menthol cig, ahead of Philip Morris USA and Reynolds American.

Scientists say that tobacco companies add menthol flavoring to mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make the smoke to be cooler and long-lasting; however, this flavoring entices smokers to light up more cigarettes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering the impact of menthol flavor on smokers and could include menthol in the ban on flavorings.

The SAMHSA report shows that the number of smokers who prefer menthol cigarette in teenage group (12 -18 years) went up from 44% reported in 2004 to 48% in 2008. In addition, among the younger adults group (18-25 years) the rate of menthol smokers grew from 34% in 2004 up to 41% in 2008. Although the report doesn’t reveal overall number of menthol-lovers, it concludes that each year over 4 billion packs of menthol smokes are sold across the country.

William Loftis, SAMHSA senior director, stated that he has been highly concerned with the significant appeal that menthol flavoring has on younger smokers, because menthol makes smoking easier and thus, can tempt many adolescents into taking up smoking and become addicted to that hazardous habit.

Lorillard spokesperson said the company has provided the FDA with all the available information to prove that smokers of both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes are able to give up their habit equally and said that claims that menthol lures smokers to light up more cigarettes have no scientific prove.

In 2009 the U.S. Congress adopted the legislation, empowering the FDA with the authority to control tobacco industry. Among the first provisions of the landmark Tobacco Control Act was the ban on the overwhelming majority of flavorings in cigarettes. Nevertheless, menthol flavoring was not covered by the regulation, due to several factors, including economic factor, and possible growth of black market.

Many groups advocating for the African American population urged the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes, because mentholated cigarettes are smoked by the majority of African American smokers.

Reports show that nearly 78 percent of African American cigarette-lovers prefer menthol cigs, in contrast to only 20 percent among White Americans. The communications manager for the FDA stated the agency would take appropriate action after examining the material regarding the effect of menthol cigarettes on public health.

The SAMHSA report was drawn up on the basis of a survey of over 350,000 people throughout the U.S. The respondents were asked whether they smoked during the last 30 days and if so, what tobacco products they used.

Menthol flavored cigarettes – a temptation for new-coming smokers

The research carried out by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that the usage of menthol cigs is more wide spread among those smokers who started to light up recently (45 percent) than among those who have been smoking for more than 5 years (32 percent).

Camel menthol cigarettes poster

Moreover, the researchers found out that the rate of menthol cigarettes lovers rose from 31 percent, registered 5 years ago to 34 percent of current smokers. This growth was the most dramatic among teenage smokers aged between 15 and 18 (from 43 percent in 2004 to 47 in 2008) and the rate of younger adults who prefer menthol cigarettes also increased from 34 percent four years ago to 41 percent.

Menthol is a flavoring agent of natural origin added to the cigarette content which is used to cover the real strength of cigarettes and providing smokers with a nice “freezing” aftertaste in the mouth. By offsetting the harshness with menthol flavor, the tobacco industry gives teenagers and young adults a gateway for getting hooked on smoking.

According to other studies by various research teams, menthol cigarettes are even more addictive than unflavored cigarettes, and therefore, it is much more difficult to give up smoking for those who prefer them in comparison with those who smoke ordinary cigarettes.

However, Menthol is the only flavoring not covered by the Tobacco Control Act, signed into federal law in June by President Barack Obama, although public health groups call the FDA to include flavored cigarettes in the ban.

SAMHSA lead researcher Christopher Louden, Professor of Public Health said that menthol-flavored cigarettes are able to keep smokers loyal to their deadly habit, and the leading cause of preventable deaths tormenting Americans. He added that evident fascination menthol cigarettes represent to adolescents and younger adults who recently tried smoking is especially concerning because these cigarettes can allure more young people to start smoking.

According to the study, the rate of smokers who prefer menthol cigarettes is the highest among African Americans (82.5 percent) what is significantly higher than among Hispanic smokers (33 percent) and White Americans (24 percent). The study showed an interesting tendency – among long-term African American smokers the overwhelming majority prefers menthol cigarettes, whereas new-comers are more likely to take up ordinary cigarettes, which is opposite to the tendency found among other ethnical groups.

Among other findings of the study is the apparent increase in the rate of male smokers of menthol cigarettes, which rose from 27 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2009.

Flavored Tobacco Products outlawed in the New York City

The New York City Council almost unanimously approved an amendment to federal ban on flavored cigarettes in order to expand it prohibiting all tobacco products with flavorings.

In conformity with the ordinance, such flavored items as cigarillos, cigars or chewing tobacco are now prohibited. The NYC public health department’s spokesman said that the legislation would prevent tobacco companies from making use of the loopholes in the federal ban that still allows flavorings in all tobacco products, other than cigarettes. Neither the federal ban, nor that of NYC includes menthol, wintergreen or mint flavors.

Camel flavored cigarettes

The neighboring state of New Jersey also prohibited exotic flavors in cigars.

Michael R Bloomberg, the NYC Mayor already expressed his support to the ordinance that would be passed to his office this week. After the legal approval, any tobacco store across the City caught on selling banned products would have to pay a $2,000 fine for the first violation whereas further violations could even lead to the cancellation of the retailer license. If adopted, the ordinance could become valid in four months.

The New York City Council member, Christine Quinn said that the tobacco industry used the flavorings to hide the hazardous effects of tobacco consumption and encourage minors to start smoking; however, the ordinance adopted by the council would put an end to that shameless practice and prevent the adolescents from becoming attracted by the colorful packs and tasty flavors and then getting addicted to tobacco use.

According to a survey carried out among students of local high schools, the rate of cigarillos and cigar-lovers grew threefold in comparison with 2001 percentage. A typical cigar contains three-five times more tobacco than an average cigarette. However, there are also small cigars, nearly of the same strength as cigarettes, but dramatically cheaper. Public health groups state that the introduction of flavorings was intended at minors, attracting them colorful images and teenage-oriented slogans.

Joel Rivera, the author of the ordinance stated that the flavorings are the latest interpretation of Joe Camel, a controversial symbol of Camel cigarettes that was prohibited in the 90’s.

Lewis Fidler, the lone opponent of the bill in the council confessed that he had switched to his favorite cherry cigars from good-old Marlboros. He added that there has been not enough reliable scientific evidence proving that adults and particularly, adolescents start smoking because of flavors.

He also said that though the sales of all kinds of tobacco products had been prohibited, the most efficient strategy in reducing teenage smoking rates is to increase prices, making tobacco products completely unaffordable to younger New Yorkers.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets sent several letters to the Mayor asking him to veto the bill, since it would hurt sales dramatically, but the Mayor wasn’t available to respond.

Another smokers’ rights organization – Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment – declared that adult smokers are hurt by ridiculous restrictions on tobacco products in the sake of minors.

Flavored cigarettes are outlawed

Starting from 12 pm on September 21st, all flavored cigarettes excepting menthol cigarettes were barred from production and sales throughout the United States. Any individual distributing banned products and thus, violating the legislation would be subjected to fins and even jail terms.

According to the Tobacco Regulation Act, adopted by Congress two months ago and coming into effect last week, the FDA has been entitled to ban all cigarettes containing chocolate, candy, clove or fruit flavors, which public health experts consider to be a gateway for adolescents to becoming regular smokers.

Flavored cigarettes ban

The Food and Drug Administration sent an opened letter to all cigarette makers operating across America, notifying them about subsequent legal actions against the manufacturers who don’t phase out flavored cigarettes from production in violation of the law. Customs services agents will trace and detain the shipments of banned cigarettes imported to the country.

What flavors are prohibited by the law?

The law prohibits all flavored cigarettes, except menthol. The hugely popular clove cigs are as well banned. Yet, since the ban covers only cigarettes, many producers of flavored cigarettes, including the top clove cigarettes manufacturer, Djarum Co, instantly modified their plants to make flavored cigars, which are nearly identical to cigarettes in size and strength.

Other restriction to become valid soon

The prohibition of flavored cigarettes came up as the first restriction imposed by the FDA after it has been granted with the authority to regulate tobacco industry, in conformity with the law signed by President Obama in June. The FDA as well intends to implement drastic restrictions on developing and marketing tobacco products, require more grievous health warnings and prohibit such terms like “low tar”, “lights,” etc.

The reasons to ban the flavorings

Anti-smoking groups claim that prohibition of flavored cigarettes is drawn to reduce terrific smoking rates among minors and fencing teens off from taking up smoking. Many researches found that fruit and chocolate-flavored cigarettes are the most luring type of tobacco products when dealing with teenagers. Scientists agree in opinion that yummy flavors are put to mask the strength of cigarettes, what contributed to make it easier to get hooked on cigarettes.

Howard Koh, main anti-tobacco advocate in new President’s administration and Assistant Secretary for Public Health, who frequently named cigarettes a catastrophe for the health of younger generations, said that implementation of the ban signals about the beginning of the new era in the battle against tobacco consumption in the United States.

The Tobacco Control Act also requires tobacco companies to reveal the components of their production, with possible further bans of the most hazardous and addictive substances.

Moreover, although menthol flavored cigarettes are not included in the ban, the FDA spokesperson said that they would carry out laboratory analysis of the influence of menthol additive on the health of smokers, and probably ban menthol cigarettes too.