Educating the public about the dangers of tobacco addiction has long been a priority for the American Thoracic Society, which provides scientifically-supported arguments to counter Big Tobacco’s marketing and lobbying efforts. Now, the ATS is debuting a new video in which children help to highlight the dangers associated with candy-flavored tobacco, which experts fear will induce kids to use tobacco, leading to a lifetime of addiction.
The children appearing in the ATS video, who ranged in age from 6 to 11 years old, were asked to do a blind smell test of real candy as well as candy-flavored cigars to see if they could discern between the two. In each case, the children were unable to tell the difference. While deception is nothing new in the world of tobacco marketing, enticing children with flavorings such as grape, raspberry and fruit punch represents a new low for Big Tobacco. Although there are regulations on flavors in traditional cigarettes, other tobacco products have no such restrictions. Although the FDA has the evidence for and the opportunity to regulate flavored tobacco products, they have deferred taking action. The concern is that marketing tobacco products that appeal to children may work too well, and therein lies the danger.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90 percent of people who use tobacco products start before they turn 18 years old. Seven out of 10 middle and high school students who currently use tobacco have used a flavored product.
“Nicotine in whatever form is bad for your health and flavored cigars are a marketing ploy to get future generations of children addicted to nicotine,” said Enid Neptune, MD, lung researcher and vice-chair of the ATS Tobacco Action Committee. “Tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to cause addiction and once you’re addicted it’s not easy to quit. Why? Because nicotine actually changes the brain.” That is why tobacco is one of the most difficult addictions to kick. According to the ATS patient information series on smoking, the brain reacts to nicotine by releasing chemicals that imitate the same effects on a person’s mood as amphetamines and cocaine. Smokers tend to experience feelings of withdrawal from nicotine after they stop smoking. Once addicted, they need to keep smoking just to relieve the withdrawal so that they can feel normal.
“As a physician in the ICU, I’ve seen the ravages of smoking in my patients: heart disease, emphysema lung cancer, cancer of the mouth,” said Marc Moss, MD, president of the ATS. “Teaching our children about the dangers of smoking is one of the most important things we can do as parents. However, it is critical that the FDA puts safeguards in place that protect children from tobacco and nicotine addiction.”