First-time tobacco users lured by flavorings, report says

Flavoring tobacco for first-time users

For the uninitiated, tobacco products are more alluring if they have added flavor, a new report by the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Tobacco Products finds. Pictured are flavored vaping cartridges.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

A majority of adolescents who are puffing, vaping or chewing a tobacco product for the first time prefer one with flavor, suggesting that fruity, tangy, spicy or minty flavorings add a powerful allure to the uninitiated.

In a nationwide survey of U.S. children ages 12 to 17, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products has found that among those trying a hookah, electronic cigarette, cigar or regular cigarette for the first time, 89%, 81%, 65% and 50%, respectively, chose to try their tobacco product with an added flavoring.

In the United States, the marketing of flavored cigarettes -- with the exception of menthol -- is prohibited. But a wide range of flavorings is used in tobacco that is vaped, smoked in hookahs, chewed or dissolved in the mouth.

When adolescents were asked about their use of a tobacco product over the last 30 days, large majorities underscored that flavorings continued to play a role in their enjoyment of tobacco products. Asked about their tobacco use in the preceding month, 89% among hookah users said they had used flavored tobacco, compared with 85% of e-cigarette users, 72% of  users of any cigar type, and 60% of cigarette smokers.


The results were published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The study offers new insights into what factors pave the way for an estimated 3,200 American kids each day to try tobacco for the first time. A lifetime tobacco habit is overwhelmingly started in the teen and young adult years, and federal regulators have been keen to blunt smoking’s appeal to first-time users.

Since 2009, the FDA has had sweeping powers to regulate tobacco products in the interest of the public’s health. New evidence that flavorings play a key role in easing a would-be tobacco user’s introduction to the product is sure to spark renewed debate over outlawing flavorings.

“Consistent with national school-based estimates, this study confirms widespread appeal of flavored products among youth tobacco users,” the authors write. “In addition to continued proven tobacco control and prevention strategies, efforts to decrease use of flavored tobacco products among youth should be considered.”


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