Our View

Toy cigars with real-world consequences

By From page A6 | January 07, 2014

The issue: Here’s another way for kids to get hooked on tobacco use

Protecting the young from themselves and each other easily dates back 30,000 years or more, when adult Homo sapiens tried to stop teenage hominids from jabbing each other with specially sharpened sticks they bought from unscrupulous Neanderthal shopkeepers.

THE GOVERNMENT continues its long, arduous battle against youth smoking, and not without success. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that cigarette smoking among middle school and high school youths declined in a linear fashion between 2000 and 2011.

But regulators who thought they were winning the battle when candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes were banned by the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act face another challenge.

The manufacture of little flavored cigars was omitted from the ban. Now, more than two of every five teen smokers choose them, the CDC says, citing a 2011 national tobacco-use survey of nearly 19,000 students in grades six through 12. Roughly one in 30 middle and high schoolers report smoking the sweet cigars; by senior year, the rate is one in 12.

While it’s illegal to sell cigarettes or cigars to consumers under 18, it’s easy for youths to find and buy the sweet cigars, which often come in small packages for less than a dollar. It seems like a harmless fad, but so did cigarettes when they first gained popularity in the early 20th century.

THE EMPHASIS on cutting off tobacco sales to minors is a worthwhile one because studies show that if you haven’t picked up the habit by age 21 you never will.

The old Dutch proverb has it that we grow too soon old and too late smart. The words of CDC Director Tom Frieden might carry a little more weight, if not a certain finality: “The so-called small cigars look like cigarettes, addict as much as cigarettes and they kill like cigarettes.”

Feel free to snub out your rum-and-honey cigar, kid. Right now. We’ll wait.

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