APRIL 30, 2007


Cigarillos: Big Tobacco's candy-coated chicanery

Flavoured cigars send teens smoke signals. Quebec moves to ban singles

Sales of cigarillos in candy flavours like raspberry and mint chocolate are up 300% in Canada. Anti-smoking groups fear their popularity could fuel a kid-friendly smoking revival.

Cigarillos are cigarette-sized, filtered cigars that come in a variety of enticing flavours and — perhaps most dangerously — can be bought as singles at any corner store where they're often right next to the candy display. And, according to an ongoing study by the Quebec health ministry, kids are eating them up.

Smoking's been on the decline among young people — down around 50% — for a decade. But cigarillos are bucking that trend. According to a 2004 survey of Quebec teens, 18% said they'd tried cigars or cigarillos, up from 13% in 2000.

Chances are you've seen cigarillo packaging — small plastic tubes that look a lot like those old horoscope rolls — littering sidewalks and storm drains. Though it's illegal to sell single cigarettes, cigarillos — because they're classed as cigars — are exempt. Cynics say the tobacco industry is taking advantage of this loophole to get kids hooked on smoking. Big Tobacco denies. "Regardless of their intent, they are still attracting underage children to their product," Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society told the Toronto Sun. "There's no doubt that the tobacco industry on the whole is a declining market. And all new smokers begin in their teens or pre-teens."

Now public health officials are finally taking notice. Quebec's health minister Philippe Couillard recently announced his department is looking into banning single cigarillos, citing their wide appeal to teens. "These little, coloured, plastic-tipped cigars, fruit or vanilla-scented, are intended for the youth market. They can easily buy them for about a dollar each. This worries us enormously," Louis Gauvin, spokesman for the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control told the French-language newspaper La Presse. His organization lodged a formal complaint with the ministry in October, prompting the current study.

"If the law prevented their individual sale and they were sold in packs of 20," added Mr Gauvin, "a young person might think twice because they'd have to spend over $30 for a pack."

Another issue with cigarillo singles is that, unlike cigarette packs, which feature frightening warnings that take nearly 50% of the packaging, cigarillo tubes only have enough room for tiny text warnings. The main warnings are on the shipping packaging, which the consumer never sees. A study from the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that Canada's graphic labels of decaying teeth and cancerous lungs do work to deter people from smoking.

Add to this the fact that cigar smokers tend to underestimate the carcinogenicity of cigars. In fact, cigarillos pose similar hazards to cigarettes; they're lighter on some chemicals, but heavier on others.

The single cigarillo could also ensnare current smokers who are trying to quit. In smoking cessation, the greatest predictor of a relapse is a lapse. For a quitter, the single cigarillo may feel like less of a slip than buying a pack of 25 smokes, offering a 'guilt-free' chance to nurse the cravings — especially if it's flavoured to taste like a fine single malt scotch.



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