In fact, Dr Len’s analogy on his blog of “likening the behavior of tobacco companies and Muhammad Ali’s tactic of bobbing and weaving his opponents’ punches” can certainly be applied to the newest shocking report surrounding this long-tarnished industry.
According to a report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, despite cigarette smoking declining in the United States, the sale of cigars has almost doubled since 2000, due to an “explosion of cheap, sweet small cigars that entice kids”. (1)
The campaign conducted a national survey, which revealed that school children were 50 percent more likely to report smoking cigars in the last month than adults. Not only this but the age group of 18–24 year olds smoke cigars at an alarmingly high rate of 15.6 percent. (1)
These statistics are due, according to the report, to tobacco companies manipulating regulatory loopholes to effectively make the cigars taste sweeter in order to attract kids.
Cigar Smokers Changing?
The report titled “Not Your Grandfather’s Cigar: A New Generation of Cheap and Sweet Cigars Threatens a New Generation of Kids” begins with a bright and vivid image of cigars packaged in what appears to be various sweet wrappers and packaging.
The report states that the demographics of cigar smoking have changed:
“While cigar smoking conjures images of middle aged and older men puffing on a stogie, today’s cigar smoker is more likely to be a kid [or] young adult smoking a small cigar or cigarette-like product labelled as a cigar.” (2)
The report cites U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) statistics that between 2000 and 2012 there has been “an explosion of cheap, flavored cigars that has doubled the sale of cigars in the United States – from six billion cigars to more than 13 billion a year.” (2)
It does seem ironic and almost implausible that in an era where smokers are forced outside buildings to huddle together and puff away even in inclement weather and the habit is more frowned upon than ever before, the smoking of cigars is on the increase amongst youngsters.
Ethics of Advertising Cigars to Youth
So just how are the tobacco companies getting away with what essentially boils down to luring children and young adults to become hooked on “sweet and cheerful” cigars?
By manipulating and evading regulations and tobacco tax, claims the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the production of fruit and sweet-flavored cigarettes. The FDA does not, however, regulate cigars, so many tobacco companies continue to market similar candy-flavored cigars.
Not only this but, according to the report, some companies are even modifying their flavored cigarettes so that they meet the legal definition of cigars, namely by adding tobacco to the wrapper.
The regulatory loopholes do not stop there. In 2009, the tax on cigarettes and small cigars was significantly increased under federal law, while larger cigars were taxed at lower rates. The report claims that some tobacco companies deliberately made their cigar products heavier in order to qualify for the lower taxes.
A report on Bloomberg published earlier this month revealed that a dozen tobacco companies that are exploiting this legal tax loophole have avoided as much as $1.1 billion in U.S. taxes and that their “secret” is stuffing their products with clay found in cat litter in order to manipulate the scales in their favor.
Talking about the unscrupulousness of tobacco companies, Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in Washington told Bloomberg News:
“It shows what length the tobacco companies will go to avoid taxes and regulation that were designed to improve public health without regard to their customers. They should equalize the tax to stop the shenanigans.” (3)
Progress to thwart the loophole seems to have been initiated. In January of 2013, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin introduced legislation to close the loophole. Christina Mulka, a spokesperson for Senator Durbin told Bloomberg that such a bill would equalize the tax structure so there wouldn’t be an incentive to manipulate products, generating $3.6 billion in new tax revenue over ten years. (3)
The “coolness” surrounding smoking cigarettes many of the children of the preceding decades obediently adhered to seems to have been replaced by smoking cigarette-sized cigars that are available in many delicious flavors, such as grape, strawberry and even chocolate.
Let’s be honest, while millions of people continue their childhood smoking habit into adult life, not many of us enjoy the taste of our first cigarette. Cigars tasting of chocolate, however, are bound to be much more appetizing from the outset and in this sense these types of tobacco products could be considered to be more dangerous in getting the younger generation hooked on smoking.