The Sun Sentinel’s coverage of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance results released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month highlights a report filled with many encouraging signs for Florida youth. After decades of efforts in the community to reveal the truth that cigarettes cause addiction, death and disease, young people are getting the message.
Florida’s teen cigarette smoking rates are among the lowest in the country. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of underage cigar use. While national and state youth cigarette smoking has fallen, these losses are being offset by the use of little cigars and cigarillos among teens.
The 2013 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey reveals that statewide youth cigar smoking is outpacing cigarette use. According to the study, 8.6 percent of high school students are current cigarette smokers. This compares to 9.3 percent of high school students that are current cigar smokers. The difference may not be much, but it is significant since it is the first time that underage smokers prefer cigars over cigarettes. If the trend continues, all advances made in reducing teen tobacco prevalence may be reversed.
One reason that explains the rise in popularity of cigars to youth and young adults is owed to the cigar industry being spared some of the strictest regulations from federal and state governments. This has resulted in cigars being taxed lower than cigarettes, not having restrictions on flavor additives, and not being required to carry a minimum purchasing quantity. Big Tobacco has taken advantage of these loopholes and opted to formulate cigars that mirror the appearance and effects of cigarettes. These little cigars and cigarillos, for instance, are designed to be smoked, are flavored, and can be sold individually as well as in packs — making them a more affordable option for youth and young adults.
Little cigars are merely wrapped in tobacco leaf paper to get around the cigarette user fee. If the difference between little cigars and cigarettes is minimal, why should they be regulated differently? One thing is clear, regulations should be in place at the state level to distinguish little cigars from the larger, premium stogies that adults would use and are not found in your average convenience store.