There are thousands of sweet and fruity flavors in tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and chewing tobacco.
These flavored products can appeal to youth, influencing their initiation of tobacco use. Across the United States, more than 360 localities have banned flavored tobacco products.
What is a Flavored Tobacco Product?
A flavored tobacco product is one of the many commercially available cigarettes, chew and snuff, cigars, hookah or e-cigarettes that contain many flavors. Examples include menthol, apple, vanilla, orange, cherry and chocolate.
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act banned flavored tobacco products but not all other tobacco products. State and local governments can take the lead in implementing a flavored tobacco products ban to protect our children from the dangers of these addictive substances.
Tobacco manufacturers are competitive, always developing new and better ways to attract customers. The most successful of these are flavors to make tobacco products more appealing and easier to consume in public places. This includes putting flavored versions of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco in novel packaging designs that are not easily identifiable by the untrained eye. The best way to combat this is through comprehensive smoke-free policies and a zero-tolerance enforcement strategy. The bottom line is that a flavored tobacco products ban has the potential to save lives, reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of life for all who live, work and play in our community.
Why is a Flavored Tobacco Product Banned?
The use of flavored tobacco products is a public health crisis. These products are highly marketed to youth and can lead to young people’s first tobacco use or experimentation experience.
Young people often use flavored tobacco products as a gateway to smoking, with menthol-flavored cigarettes being the most common. They mask the harshness of the product, sustain tobacco addiction, and make it harder for kids to stop using them.
Many localities have passed laws restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products, including a menthol ban in Yolo County, California. The Public Health Law Center’s flavor policy database tracks these laws and shows a strong trend towards more comprehensive bans.
As a result, more and more state, local, and Tribal governments are passing laws prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol. This is critical to reducing the risk of youth tobacco use and preventing the next generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.
The FDA recently proposed a new rule banning menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco) in cigars. These changes are intended to reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco products, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., by reducing youth experimentation and addiction and increasing the number of smokers that quit.
How is a Flavored Tobacco Product Banned?
As the youth smoking epidemic has worsened, flavored tobacco products have become increasingly attractive to young people. Over 80% of young people who smoke reported starting with a flavored product. These products are not only challenging to quit, but they also pose a major risk for addiction and premature death.
To address this public health challenge, some local governments have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products. For example, Santa Clara County, California and Boulder, Colorado, restrict flavored tobacco sales to retailers only accessible to people 21 or older.
However, despite these bans, tobacco manufacturers continue to market menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. In response to these trends, Congress passed legislation prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars as a public health measure, which is anticipated to be finalized this August.
The FDA has proposed product standards to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and to prohibit all characterizing tastes in cigars. These actions have the potential to save millions of lives and reduce disease from combusted tobacco use.
FDA has acted to protect youth from tobacco products by requiring pre-market approval for all electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). In addition, they have banned flavored ENDS that target minors and prioritized enforcement of this requirement. While many ENDS are currently illegal to sell in the United States, many unapproved ENDS have flooded the marketplace. This has led to increased sales of flavored ENDS, which are easier for young people to consume and pose a greater risk for addiction and premature death.
What is the Impact of a Flavored Tobacco Product being Banned?
A ban on flavored tobacco products reduces youth use and initiation and decreases overall smoking. Research has shown that a flavor ban can be an effective policy tool for public health because it increases the odds of youth and young adults quitting and switching to less harmful alternatives.
Tobacco industry-designed flavors are a key ingredient in a tobacco product that can appeal to youth and entice them into trying it, which is often the first time they try tobacco. This is because the flavors enhance the taste and provide a way to mask the harshness of tobacco.
Despite their known appeal to youth and young adults, the tobacco industry has developed loopholes allowing it to continue selling menthol and flavored cigars. Marginalized populations disproportionately use these products.
Statewide comprehensive flavored tobacco sales prohibitions are more effective than e-cigarette-specific flavored policies in reducing overall flavored tobacco purchasing. Advocates and policymakers should prioritize these policies at all levels of government.
For example, a study in San Francisco, California, assessed the impact of a flavor ban restricting the sale of all flavored tobacco products to adult-only stores. The study found that sales of flavored tobacco (excluding menthol) decreased by 87% after the ban. In addition, a survey of participants who smoked before the ban and those who did not showed that cigarette smoking decreased in both groups.