Flavored cigars replacing cigarettes in popularity among teens - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Flavored cigars replacing cigarettes in popularity among teens

PHOENIX (CBS5) -

They come in colorful packages with exotic flavors like pineapple, double apple and strawberry. Now, after the federal ban on flavored cigarettes four years ago, flavored cigars are now all the rage, especially among younger smokers.

"One thing that the cigarette company learned long ago is the earlier you can get someone hooked on your product, the longer they will become a lifetime user of your product," said Pulmonologist Dr. Thomas Kunelis.

"It sounds like a safe alternative. It really isn't," he continued.

Back in 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes, hoping to stop the appeal to younger smokers, especially teens. In the four years that followed, smoking cigarettes has gone down in younger age groups, according to federal data. However, tobacco companies have filled that gap with flavored cigars, which are not subject to the same laws.

"(Tobacco companies) direct their packaging and marketing and their location where they sell it to the person more likely to use it. They're not going to put it right next to the Geritol," said Kunelis.

CBS 5 checked out a variety of valley stores that sell cigarettes. In all of the stores, from gas stations to supermarkets, hidden cameras found cheap flavored cigars next to or near soda and candy.

"We call them power walls. It's where all of the tobacco is stored," said Christian Stumpf with the American Lung Association of the Southwest.

Stumpf says the power walls can be very effective.

"These are something that kids' eyes gravitate to. (Teens) are starting on cigars now. They're starting on whatever is cheapest. Some of them may not ever touch a cigarette. But they still are using the cigars," he continued.

In fact, federal data shows loose tobacco and cigars now makes up more than 10 percent of all tobacco sold in the United States. In 2000, it was just three percent.

Right now, the FDA is looking at making similar legislation preventing the sale of flavored cigars. Stumpf said he hopes the decision is made soon.

"We're saying, 'FDA, look. You need to step up here and put the same regulations that you put on cigarettes,'" he said.

The decision could come down as early as October. However, if the same decision is made, it could take months before the ban takes effect.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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