Steve Chapman

At least since 1994, when seven tobacco executives testified before Congress that they didn't think cigarettes were addictive, the public has not put great trust in those who sell carcinogens for a living. What Americans may not realize is that they also shouldn't believe the people who are supposed to protect us from tobacco. When it comes to cigarettes, the federal government can blow smoke with the best of them.

That became clear the other day, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it was prohibiting the sale of cigarettes with candy or fruit flavors. "These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," said Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. The ban, said Howard Koh, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, "will break that cycle [of addiction] for the more than 3,600 young people who start smoking daily."

Sure it will. And I'm Megan Fox.

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When it comes to escorting kids into addiction, such cigarettes are more like the eye of a needle than a gateway. You would never know from the government's pronouncements that the nation's three major tobacco companies -- R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard -- don't even make them. Notorious lines like Warm Winter Toffee and Winter Mocha Mint were removed from the market years ago. The only flavor the major producers use anymore is menthol, which happens to be one the FDA chose not to ban.

Only a few small companies still offer the sort of flavors targeted by the government. According to one maker, Kretek International, these cigarettes account for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all U.S. sales.

When I asked an FDA spokesperson what portion of the cigarettes smoked by teens are flavored, she told me the agency doesn't know. So how does it know they serve as "a gateway for many children"? How does it know that banning them will have any effect on the number of new tobacco addicts? Actually, it doesn't.

In any case, the number of kids using these products can't be very large. Michael Siegel, a physician and public health professor at Boston University, says that 87 percent of all high school smokers choose Marlboro, Camel or Newport, which don't come in tutti-frutti flavors.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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