Friday, September 25, 2009
Banning Flavored Cigarettes…What’s Next?
Earlier this week the FDA implemented a ban on flavored cigarettes. According to FDA documents, the scientific basis for this action was essentially a 2008 study by Klein et al. in Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Klein looked at the National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey (NYSCS), finding that 22-23% of smokers age 17-19 years had "used" flavored cigarettes, compared with 9-10% of smokers age 20-26 years and 11% of smokers age 25-39 years (the latter percentage is from another survey).
According to the manuscript, “most flavored cigarette users reported that they usually smoked a brand other than [a flavored one]. Over half of flavored cigarette users (51.1% in NYSCS…) reported use of a usual brand that was manufactured by Philip Morris,” a company that does not make flavored cigarettes. The report could have presented detailed information about use of flavored vs. non-flavored cigarettes; it didn't, probably because the information didn't sustain the authors' conclusion: “Uniquely flavored cigarette brands seem to be most attractive to the youngest smokers and should be prohibited.”
In summary, flavored cigarettes are used by, at most, 2 out of 10 young smokers and aren't even their usual brand, which is unflavored. The Klein report also provided no evidence that flavored cigarettes are tobacco initiation products among young smokers. Of course, anti-tobacco crusaders have two magical words for tobacco regulatory discussions: The children. Virtually any action can be portrayed as protecting youth, and providing a rationale for the action is entirely unnecessary.
Congress directed the FDA to remove flavored cigarettes, so the agency didn’t need to justify the ban. That was fortuitous, because but it appears the FDA had trouble producing a credible scientific rationale. The FDA’s action does serve one of the primary goals of the anti-tobacco crusade: make tobacco use a miserable experience. However, since smokers who occasionally enjoy flavored-cigarettes prefer unflavored brands most of the time, the ban is likely to have minimal to no effect on smoking prevalence. It’s the equivalent of banning wine coolers because they’re occasionally consumed by people who drink a quart of vodka daily.
The FDA “is currently examining options for regulating both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes.” The only “option” that will satisfy anti-tobacco extremists, who have been whining for years about flavored smokeless products, will be to broaden the ban.