Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that consumption of cigarettes decreased 32.8% from 2000 to 2011. However, use of other kinds of tobacco grew by a staggering 123% as smokers sought cheaper alternatives to cigarettes, most noticeably in 2009 when federal excise taxes increased from 39 cents to $1.01 on a pack of cigarettes. But the tax hikes on the sale of cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and pipe tobacco were not commensurate. People are smoking fewer cigarettes, and instead are turning to cheaper smokeless tobacco products, cigars, and loose tobacco. We need to address this growing trend and be as resourceful as Big Tobacco as they take full advantage of these tax loopholes.
The use of loose tobacco and cigars has increased from 3.4% in 2000 to 10.4% in 2011. Our youth is the most vulnerable. In 2009, the CDC reported that 18.6% of male high school students were cigar smokers. Cheaper smaller cigars are especially appealing to youth because they are available in all sorts of flavors such as grape, vanilla and even chocolate. Cigars and pipe tobacco aren’t regulated by the FDA, so Big Tobacco can not only flavor them but also label them as “light” or “low tar” and market them with fewer restrictions.
“[These cigars] look like cigarettes,” Michael Tynan, one of the authors of the new CDC report, says. “They smoke like cigarettes. They taste better than a cigarette, because they have flavors. They are cheaper than cigarettes, because of the tax issues. But they are just as deadly. They contain the same toxic chemicals.”
High school students are also using smokeless tobacco, which can lead to oral cancer, gum disease and nicotine addiction. . According to the Surgeon General’s report, nearly one in five white adolescent males (12–17 years old) uses smokeless tobacco. Evidence shows that adolescent boys who use smokeless tobacco products have a higher risk of becoming cigarette smokers within four years.
Some of Big Tobacco’s newest products—dissolvables—are marketed similarly to candy and gum, with similar packaging and flavors like “fresh.” They promise “Pleasure for wherever!” and one teenager who used Camel Snus said, “It’s easy, it’s super-discreet…and none of the teachers will ever know what I’m doing.”
Not only are youth turning to cheaper tobacco products but declines in the use of tobacco by youth and young adults have stalled for both cigarette smoking and for smokeless tobacco use. We need to work harder to protect our youth from this deadly product in its many forms. As long as tax loopholes exist and the FDA doesn’t regulate cigars and pipe tobacco, kids will continue to be lured into a lifetime of nicotine addiction by Big Tobacco with its bountiful array of tobacco products–not just cigarettes.