Flavored Cigarettes Banned From Retailers Shelves

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Cigarette manufactures and retailers have been preparing for the first major change of the new Tobacco Control Act. Beginning Tuesday, they will no longer be able to make or sell flavored cigarettes designed to taste like fruit, candy and spices.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some other news now: Beginning today, you can no longer buy flavored cigarettes, the kind designed to taste like fruit, spices or candy. The federal ban is among the first provisions to take effect since Congress passed the Tobacco Control Act this year.

NPR's Adam Hochberg has more.

ADAM HOCHBERG: The flavored cigarettes carried names like Sweet Dreams and Mocha Taboo, and some of the packages looked a lot like the wrappers you see on expensive candy bars. Infused with cherries or coconut or coffee or cloves, they're a niche product in the $70 billion tobacco industry.

But Matt Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says they appeal to new smokers who find the taste of regular cigarettes too harsh.

Mr. MATT MYERS (President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids): They're a mechanism to introduce a new generation of young people to tobacco products. You never see a long-term smoker smoking a chocolate, mocha mint, vanilla or strawberry cigarette.

HOCHBERG: Activists have lobbied for years to get the products off the market. In 2006, R.J. Reynolds agreed to stop making several of its flavored blends, such as Camel Warm Winter Toffee. But several small manufacturers continue to sell flavored cigarettes, and they'll feel the effect of today's ban.

John Geoghegan is with Kretek International, a California importer of clove cigarettes. He says the company's complying with the law, but he argues the ban is misdirected.

Mr. JOHN GEOGHEGAN (Kretek International): The total flavored cigarette business is a little bit less than two-tenths of one percent of all the cigarettes sold. So somehow, we've become the poster child for FDA enforcement, and I think it's not a big deal.

HOCHBERG: Geoghegan says Kretek will continue to make small cigars with flavoring, a practice that may skirt the ban but that industry critics want the Food and Drug Administration to examine. The new law also specifically exempts menthol, a flavoring used in about a quarter of all cigarettes sold, including 70 percent of those smoked by African-Americans.

Mike Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health says that's a major loophole.

Professor MIKE SIEGEL (Boston University School of Public Health): It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to say look, we're going to ban cigarette flavorings because they're so important, but we're going to exempt the one that's actually used the most. You know, you need to be consistent. If it's so important that we ban cigarette flavorings, then ban them.

HOCHBERG: This year's legislation does require the FDA to study the issue of menthol and cigarettes. But Matt Myers from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids concedes that regulating such a popular ingredient is a complicated task, far more so than banning exotic flavors like pineapple or grape.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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