With enticing names like Sweet Dreams, Mocha Mint and Caribbean Chill, flavored cigarettes are drawing fire from Congress, which is considering a bill that would ban the sale of what it sees as youth-targeted tobacco products. Separate bills have also been proposed in seven other states, including New York, Minnesota, West Virginia, Illinois and Texas.
"Flavored cigarettes are a blatant example of how tobacco companies try to get kids to start smoking," Joel Spivak, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said. He says legislation has been introduced by both houses of Congress that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate all phases of the tobacco industry, including a ban on flavored cigarettes. "Virtually, the entire health community in the United States supports this legislation and we absolutely support it.
"It's obvious who's using these cigarettes and it's not regular smokers," Spivak added. "It's first-timers and kids." The marketing of candy-flavored cigarettes has been universally condemned by public-health experts as being aimed at trying to get kids to experiment with smoking, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
New York State Senator Charles Fuschillo Jr. sponsored legislation earlier this year that would prohibit the sale of cigarettes laced with candy or fruit flavors. "The intent of this legislation is to prevent the [tobacco] industry of achieving its goal while we continue to protect our children," he said in a statement.
Tobacco companies, like R.J. Reynolds, have been actively promoting their candy-flavored cigarettes — which include such varieties as chocolate, vanilla, berry and lime — in magazines like Elle, Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan. In the winter, RJR introduced its latest batch of Winter Blends flavored cigarettes, including Warm Winter Toffee and Winter Mocha Mint. These followed the release of its Summer Blends, including the coconut-and-pineapple-flavored Kauai Kolada. Recently, the company made the decision to stop advertising its flavored brands. However, the cigarettes will still be sold in stores.
RJR is the same company that introduced the world, and millions of youths, to the phallic-faced cartoon Joe Camel. In November 1998, in the wake of the seemingly ubiquitous ad campaign featuring the smooth, party-loving camel, a multistate tobacco settlement prohibited the use of cartoon characters in cigarette ads. In June 2000, a California judge ordered R.J. Reynolds to change its ad-placement policies and pay a $20 million penalty for breaching the settlement and "indirectly targeting" teens with ads for Camel and other cigarettes.
Kretek International, a California-based manufacturer, stopped producing two of its flavored brands about two years ago when it drew fire for its bubblegum-like flavors. The Liquid Zoo cigarettes were criticized for their cartoonish packaging.
A study released two weeks ago by Dr. Gary Giovino, director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute, showed 20 percent of 17- to 19-year-old smokers have tried one or more varieties of flavored cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared to 6 percent of adults.
Giovino says the ban would be a good idea, but much more needs to be done in terms of the marketing that is influencing so many young people to light up. "Graphic warning labels should be put on U.S. cigarette packs, similar to what's been done in Canada," he said. "The use of terms like 'light,' 'smooth' and 'mild,' or anything that depicts [cigarettes as] less hazardous should be banned, [and with flavored cigarettes], they all sweeten the poison."
R.J. Reynolds' spokesperson Fred McConnell told The Associated Press the company is not targeting minors, but decided to stop advertising its flavored versions of its Camel brands. "We recognize use of certain names on Camel Exotics have resulted in unintended concerns," he said. The company is concerned the legislation to ban flavored cigarettes would lead to bans on conventional cigarettes. "Ingredients like cocoa, sugar, licorice and menthol have been used in cigarettes for 100 years," he added.
A spokesperson from RJR could not be reached for further comment by press time.
The Department of Justice is suing the cigarette manufacturers in federal court right now for $280 billion for decades of illegal and harmful practices, including marketing to children and concealing the health risks and addictive nature of its products.