In another attempt to hook teens and young adults to a life-long nicotine addiction, tobacco companies are now offering "little cigars" as candy flavored tobacco.
Scientists compared the chemical flavorings, and the level of those flavorings, in candy, Kool-Aid and tobacco products.
Researchers found that there was a distinct similarity in the kinds of flavorings used in all three products. In fact, in some of the tobacco products, the levels of flavorings were much higher than in typical candy and Kool-Aid.
U.S. health officials are concerned that the sweet flavors may mask the bitter taste of tobacco, luring people into a very addictive habit that creates great health risks.
"The same, familiar, chemical-specific flavor sensory cues that are associated with fruit flavors in popular candy and drink products are being exploited in the engineered designs of flavored tobacco products," the researchers wrote in their letter. "What we are seeing is truly candy-flavored tobacco."
According to an October 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two out of every five teen smokers already use flavored products. Nearly 60 % of those smoking little cigars have no desire to quit, compared to 49 % of other cigar smokers.
Since 1990, flavored cigarettes haven been banned in the U.S., but tobacco companies have found a way to get around those regulations with the "little cigars". They weigh slightly more than cigarettes avoiding regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, the FDA does not regulate cigars.
When the CDC report was first released back in October, agency officials warned of the health dangers inherent in these products.
"Flavored or not, cigars cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease and many other health problems. Flavored little cigars appeal to youth and the use of these tobacco products may lead to disfigurement, disability and premature death," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in an agency news release at the time. "We need to take comprehensive steps to reduce all tobacco use for all of our youth."
Another CDC official put it this way:
"Many little cigars bear a remarkable resemblance to cigarettes. In fact, some youth who are smoking cigarettes may be smoking flavored little cigars that they've mistaken for cigarettes," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The concern it raises for us is because little cigars are so similar to cigarettes, this represents a loophole in the FDA's ban on flavored cigarettes."
The sales of little cigars increased 240% from 1997 to 2007, with flavored brands making up almost 80% of the cigar market according to the CDC.
E-cigarettes are taking their cue from the success of flavored tobacco products. It seems that if a tobacco product is overly sweetened to the point of hiding an unpleasant taste someone will smoke, chew or inhale it.
It's pretty obvious that tobacco companies know their golden goose is literally dying off and want to attract new consumers. They can't advertise directly to kids and teens so they quietly add more and more products that appeal to adventurous young people.
Unfortunately, the sweetness will dissolve into a bitter addiction and possible life-long health problems for this new generation of users.
The analysis of the sweetened tobacco products was published online in the May 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.