Laying a Sweet Trap
Ever hunting for “replacement smokers,”27 Big Tobacco uses a proven strategy to entice kids and teens to try tobacco and lock them into a lifetime habit:
Make it sweet, make it cheap, and make it easy to get.
The number of sweet-flavored tobacco products marketed to youth has exploded in recent years, available now in countless forms and varieties. Flavors such as “vivid vanilla” and “cherry crush” mask the natural harshness and true taste of tobacco, making flavored tobacco more appealing to kids and young people.
Flavored little cigars
Increasingly, flavored little cigars are the tobacco product of choice for Oregon high schoolers.28 That’s partly because they’re taxed at a lower rate, and therefore cheaper, than cigarettes.29 Like candy bars, they can be purchased one or two at a time, for a buck or two each, well within the budget of a cash-strapped teen.
For evidence of this sweet and cheap strategy, check out the colorful displays at stores that sell tobacco in Oregon. Little cigars and slightly-larger cigarillos often come in bright, shiny wrappers and are sold beside the cash register, or at a child’s eye level near the candy aisle. Portland State University researchers30 determined that Big Tobacco adds the same flavor chemicals used in LifeSavers™ and Kool-Aid™ to sweeten them. And the industry markets them in fruit-flavored and other varieties that children and teens find appealing in other products: chocolate, grape, strawberry, and bubble gum.
Chew, snuff, snus, and dissolvable sticks and strips also come in sweet fruit flavors. Some varieties, like mint-shaped “orbs,” are easily mistaken for candy. Although marketed as an alternative to cigarettes, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, is highly addictive and may lead to oral cancer, gum disease and other health problems.
These candy-flavored tactics are paying off. Even as cigarette use declines among Oregon teens, the use of flavored tobacco products is on the rise. These include flavored e-cigarettes, sold in kid-friendly varieties such as Cap’n Crunch® and Gummi Bear®. Nearly twice as many 11th graders use non-cigarette tobacco products as smoke cigarettes,31 and e-cigarette use among high school students has more than doubled since 2011.32
These products raise their own additional concerns.
- Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a toxic and addictive ingredient.
- E-cigarettes are marketed in kid-friendly flavors such as cotton candy, strawberry and chocolate; are heavily advertised on youth-centric TV networks including ABC Family and MTV; and are still largely unregulated, so kids can buy them legally in Oregon at any age.
- E-cigarettes are attracting a new group of young tobacco users: More than half of middle and high school students in Oregon who use e-cigarettes don’t smoke conventional cigarettes.