According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, candy-flavored cigarettes are a major gateway to youth smoking and the federal ban on flavored cigarettes will therefore reduce the number of youth smokers.
In a press release issued by FDA last September - when the flavored cigarette ban went into effect - Hamburg stated: "Almost 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking as teenagers. These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers. The FDA will utilize regulatory authority to reduce the burden of illness and death caused by tobacco products to enhance our Nation's public health."
In the same press release, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Howard K. Koh also asserted that flavored cigarettes are causing youth to become addicted to tobacco and that the flavored cigarette ban would help prevent nearly 3,600 youths a day from becoming addicted. In the press release, Dr. Koh stated: "Flavored cigarettes attract and allure kids into lifetime addiction. FDA's ban on these cigarettes will break that cycle for the more than 3,600 young people who start smoking daily."
As recently as this Tuesday, Representative Henry Waxman also asserted that candy-flavored cigarettes are used by the tobacco industry to hook teenagers on cigarettes. He stated: "On the first anniversary of the historic Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, it is important to focus on the crucial protections and benefits the law has provided, and the additional safeguards due to take effect today. The new law gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products, as well as their advertising and marketing. Using this new authority, FDA banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, used by the tobacco industry to hook children on tobacco."
The Rest of the Story
The public assertions made by the FDA Commissioner, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, and Representative Waxman - a leading proponent of the FDA tobacco law - sound great, but there is just one problem.
The rest of the story is that these assertions are untrue.
It is demonstrably false that flavored cigarettes are a gateway to cigarette smoking, that they contribute significantly to addiction of youths to tobacco, that the tobacco industry uses these flavored cigarettes to hook children, and that the FDA ban on candy-flavored cigarettes will have any impact whatsoever on youth smoking. (This is with the exception of menthol, the one flavoring which is actually used by the tobacco companies to hook kids, but which is exempt from the flavoring ban.)
In fact, prior to the implementation of the law, not a single flavored cigarette brand (other than menthol cigarettes) produced by one of the major tobacco companies - including Philip Morris, Reynolds American, or Lorillard - was on the market. And the overall market share of flavored cigarettes among youth smokers was less than 0.1%.
The truth is that nearly every youth who is addicted to tobacco smokes one of the major cigarette brands - including Marlboro, Camel, Newport, Kool, Winston, Parliament, and Basic. None of these are flavored cigarettes (again, with the exception of menthol, which I'll get to shortly).
The truth is that the predominant gateway to youth smoking is non-flavored cigarettes (excluding menthol). The removal of flavored cigarettes from the market by the FDA will have no impact whatsoever on youth smoking. The only thing that would have had an impact is the removal of the non-flavored cigarettes - like Camels, Marlboros, and Newports - which are smoked by greater than 85% of all youth smokers.
In fact, the one flavoring that was exempt - menthol - is the one and only flavoring that is actually used to hook kids. There are literally tens of thousands of kids using menthol-flavored cigarettes, but even prior to the FDA law, there were virtually none using candy-flavored cigarettes that were actually covered by the law.
It is well known that I disagree with the views of the FDA, Department of Health and Human Services, and Representative Waxman on the merits of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. There is certainly room for alternative opinions on the merits of this new law.
However, what I do not believe there is room for is misleading the American public about the scientific facts. It is tantamount to lying to the public to tell us that candy flavored cigarettes are a gateway to youth smoking. It is disingenous, if not an outright lie, to assert that flavored cigarettes are alluring and enticing kids to smoke. It is demonstrably false that the ban on flavored cigarettes will break the cycle of addiction for 3,600 youths a day. It is untruthful to state that candy-flavored cigarettes were being used by the tobacco industry to hook youths. And it is outright false to claim that the ban on candy-flavored cigarettes will lower youth smoking rates, as the law applies to virtually no brands actually smoked by youths.
I challenge Dr. Hamburg, Dr. Koh, and Representative Waxman to name the actual cigarette brands - the brands of candy-flavored cigarettes - that they allege were the source of youth addiction to cigarette smoking just prior to the implementation of the flavored cigarette ban in September 2009 and which are no longer being smoked by large numbers of youths as a result of that ban.
The only cigarette brands which fall into that category are kreteks (clove-flavored cigarettes), but these products did not make up any substantial portion of the youth cigarette market. I challenge Drs. Hamburg and Koh and Representative Waxman to name any other flavored cigarette brand that was responsible for any significant proportion of youth smoking just prior to the law's implementation last September.
If they are unable to name such brands, then clearly their public assertions were false.
What is most disturbing to me about the rest of the story is that these reputable health agencies - the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services - are making false statements to the public, and apparently for purely political reasons: to garner political support for the FDA tobacco law and make it look like this law is more effective than it actually is.
I can't tell you how troubling that is to me. Federal agencies should be guided by science and facts, not by politics. Especially in this Administration, which is supposed to pride itself on the reliance on science, rather than politics, in policy making.
This is a truly sad and very disappointing let-down for me. But more importantly, it is an unfortunate let-down and disservice to the American people, who I think deserve better.
We deserve the truth and unfortunately, we're getting political speak, not the truth. That's perhaps to be expected when it comes from politicians, but it's unacceptable when it comes from federal health officials.