Eager to grow up and try new things, young people are already vulnerable to the lure of tobacco use. Unfortunately, the way tobacco products are often packaged and marketed can increase that risk.
Decorative tins, packs, and wrappers in bright, youthful colors help new tobacco products stand out in ads and on the street. Even worse, thousands of sweet flavors that appeal to teenagers' taste buds and sense of adventure are filling our store shelves. One of those flavors, menthol, can even make tobacco products more addictive.
Flavored cigarettes were banned in the U.S. in 2009, in part because of their popularity with kids. Because the new law only applied to cigarettes, flavored tobacco quickly took on new shapes and styles. Now a tide of next generation tobacco products in sweet, candy, and fruit flavors have made their way onto store shelves.
Today, you can find the same flavorings used to make popular candies and treats in cigars, e-cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco products. One trendy new e-cigarette is even sold with a multi-pack of sweet flavors. The options seem endless and include flavors like cherry, grape, cotton candy, sour apple, fruit medley, root beer float, and gummy bear. But such flavors aren't really surprising once you realize most tobacco users start before they turn 18.
How much do sweet flavors matter to young people? A lot. In Wisconsin, 96% of middle schoolers say they probably wouldn't try an e-cigarette—the most popular tobacco product among youth today—if it wasn't flavored.
You Should Know:
Flavored tobacco products aren't a novelty. Some people think fruit, candy, and mint-flavored tobacco products aren't all that common. But that couldn't be further from the truth. At least 40% of cigarillos and smokeless products are flavored and there are at least 7,700 uniquely flavored e-cigarette liquids on the market.
A kid's first tobacco product is usually flavored. Flavored tobacco products are often the very first tobacco product a young person tries. That's true for at least 80% of kids who've used tobacco. And two out of three young tobacco users say they use tobacco products because "they come in flavors I like."
Flavored products are not safe products. Candy flavors like strawberry, fresh mint, and cotton candy can give the impression that flavored e-cigarettes, little cigars and cigarillos, and smokeless products are safer or milder versions of conventional tobacco. But no tobacco product is safe. Sweet and minty flavors merely mask tobacco's chemicals and harsh taste, making it easier to use.
Learn more about the flavors and the harm they can do:
It can be hard to spot tobacco products these days. That's because many smokeless tobaccos, e-cigarette liquids, and cigar products use bright colors, little tins, and shiny materials in their packaging. In fact, they can look a lot like a writing pen or sleek USB flash drive. They'd also fit in with many of the products you can find in the candy aisle at your neighborhood convenience store.
Tobacco packaging is important because it is the first thing many young people notice. And products that look too similar to candy could give you the wrong impression: that the addictive product inside is harmless.
Products that might mislead include:
- Shiny cigar packaging that looks like candy.
- E-cigarette "juices" covered in bright, attention-grabbing labels.
- Snus containers that look like mint tins.
- Thin e-cigarette pens with small flavor cartridges that look a like USB flash drives.
- Colorful dip tins that look like mints or gum.
- Disposable electronic cigarettes that look like fashionable pens.
Menthol cigarettes might be considered the original flavored tobacco product. The minty additive cools and soothes tobacco's harshness, which may explain why menthol cigarette use is higher among young people than older adults. But that's not all. The FDA has determined that menthol actually makes cigarettes more addictive and harder to quit.
Menthol has a long history of being marketed to African American communities. Sadly, this is still common, with low income and minority neighborhoods being exposed to as much as two to three times the usual number of cigarette ads, especially for menthol products.
That marketing effort is working. Nationally, 70.5% of African American smokers in middle and high school use menthol cigarettes, compared to 51.4% of white students.
Today, menthol has made it into almost every type of tobacco there is, including e-cigarette liquids, smokeless tobacco, and cigar products.
You Should Know:
Menthol tobacco products are not safe. With names like smooth, cool, skyline, ice, crisp blend, and fresh mint, menthol tobacco products can give kids the impression that menthol products are safer or milder versions of conventional tobacco. But no tobacco product is safe. Menthol suppresses coughing and the flavor helps hide tobacco's chemicals and harsh taste.
Menthol tobacco products are highly addictive. Menthol can make cigarettes more addictive and harder to quit. Menthol smokers report shorter periods between cigarettes. They also try to quit smoking more often and are less likely to be successful.
Menthol cigarettes harm nearly every organ in the body. Smoking menthol cigarettes exposes your body to thousands of chemicals, including poisons like arsenic and nearly 70 known cancer causers. It can damage your heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs. It can also change the way a young person's brain develops.
Learn more about menthol cigarettes and the harm they can do:
- The Truth about Menthol
- Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Non-Menthol Cigarettes
- Point of Sale Tobacco Marketing
- 2015 Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, P-43073
- Tobacco Use Among African Americans
- Chemicals in Cigarettes: From Plant, to Product, to Puff
- Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking
- Smoking and Youth
Continue to Step 3
Now that you have a better understanding of the current issues, it's time to learn what you can do as a parent.