Alex Bojko, junior sports administration major, was 17 when he smoked his first clove-flavored cigarette. He had an older friend who could purchase the product, and figured he would give it a try.
“I think the flavor was either blueberry or vanilla,” he said. “They came in a bright blue, white and yellow box. At the time I just figured it was better than a cigarette.”
Shortly after smoking his first clove, he began smoking cigarettes.
“I figured, ‘Why spend $5 on a pack of cloves when I could spend $2.50 on a pack of regular smokes?” he said. “You do the math.”
And nearly five years after taking his first flavor-filled puff of a clove, he smokes about a pack of Marlboro Blend No. 27, a whiskey-flavored cigarette, per day. Although Marlboro 27s are not part of the ban, on Sept. 22, the Food and Drug Administration used its authority to ban the sale of cigarettes containing artificial flavors such as strawberry, clove, grape, orange, vanilla and cherry.
The FDA and Congress said the sale of these products violated a section in the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which stated the four largest U.S. tobacco companies could not take any action to target a demographic of youth smokers with advertising, promotion or marketing.
Thanks to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that President Barack Obama signed into effect in June, the FDA now has the authority to control how tobacco companies market, manufacture and sell tobacco products.
“They were obviously trying to lure children to buy them and start smoking,” said Joel Spivak, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “What adults do you know that smoke strawberry-flavored cigarettes?”
A 2004 University at Buffalo study found that 17-year-olds who had smoked for at least 30 days were twice as likely to smoke flavored cigarettes than 20- to 26-year-old smokers. The research also found smokers aged 17 to 19 smoked flavored cigarettes 20 percent of the time compared to smokers aged 20 to 26, who only smoked flavored cigarettes 6 percent of the time.
Dr. K. Michael Cummings, chairman of the department of health and behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and one of the authors of the research, said he thinks it’s great that flavored cigarettes are now banned.
The problem he has with the FDA’s ban, he said, is that just because a characterizing flavor, whether it be strawberry or watermelon, must be removed from the box doesn’t mean companies cannot put those flavors into their product any more.
“The box cannot say they’re vanilla-flavored,” he said. “That’s good. But it doesn’t mean they removed the vanilla.”
Other questions are still looming about the ban as well. Bojko also said the ban is a great way to keep people from smoking, but he thinks that if flavors are banned, menthol should be the first product to go.
Spivak said the FDA now has the authority to ban menthol immediately. But the reason menthol was not part of the recent ban is because 14 million people in America smoke it.
“If you’re going to ban something that’s used by 14 million people, you better have overwhelming scientific evidence that these are a danger to public health,” he said. “And unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of science on menthol.”
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