The FDA's Center for Tobacco Products has issued a false statement to the public, one that is clearly motivated by political concerns and not scientific ones. As I will explain, while this is just one lie to the public, it is of eminent concern, because it suggests that the Center is going to be guided by politics and not by science. Hopefully, this commentary will alert the Agency and the public to this concern and result in a major change in the Center's approach.
In its 2009-2010 annual review, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products stated that "research has found that children are especially attracted to and begin using tobacco products very early because of all kinds of pressures and motivations, including access to cigarettes that have candy-like characterizing flavors, such as mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry."
In addition to telling the public that children start smoking because of mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry cigarettes, FDA also told the public that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will help reduce smoking among youth because of its ban on these flavors of cigarettes. The Center called the flavoring ban a "science-based" regulatory action:
"The Tobacco Control Act prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and sale of those cigarettes in order to protect our kids and gives FDA broad authorities to take many other science-based regulatory actions to protect the public health."
The Rest of the Story
If mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry cigarettes are a major reason for youth smoking, I challenge the Center for Tobacco Products to name a single brand of mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, or strawberry cigarettes that was smoked by a significant number of youth during the past four years.
The only existing brands of cigarettes in those flavors that I am aware of were marketed by R.J. Reynolds for a brief period from 2004 to 2006, but were voluntarily removed from the market in 2006. Thus, mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry cigarettes play no role in youth smoking initiation and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act's prohibition of these flavors will remove zero cigarette brands from the market and have no effect whatsoever on youth cigarette smoking.
Moreover, the policy is far from science-based since it removes zero flavored cigarette brands from the market that significant numbers of youth smoke but exempts the one flavoring which characterizes the brands that hundreds of thousands of kids smoke: menthol.
I have done extensive research on the topic of cigarette brand market shares among youth, dating back all the way to 1979. I have examined and published data on youth cigarette brand preferences and so I am quite familiar with the types of brands with which youth initiate cigarette smoking. And based on the science, I can tell you that mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry cigarettes play no role, and have played no role for many years in the addiction of youths to cigarette smoking. They were used by youths during a short period between 2004 and 2006, but R.J. Reynolds removed these products from the market in 2006, so they are no longer influences on youth smoking and the FDA tobacco legislation accomplishes nothing by "removing" these non-existent products from the market.
Frankly, I'd really like to know what brands of mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, and strawberry cigarettes the Center for Tobacco Products is talking about when it boasts how the removal of these flavored cigarettes represents a science-based regulation that will improve the public's health by removing a major factor in youth smoking. If the Center is talking about Camel Exotic Blends, Kool Smooth Fusion, and Salem Silver Label cigarettes, then it is misleading the public because these products were removed from the market in a 2006 settlement between 38 Attorneys General and R.J. Reynolds. In that settlement, Reynolds agreed never again to market fruit- or candy-flavored cigarettes.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story is that there are no mint, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, or strawberry cigarettes that youth were smoking prior to the implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act's prohibition of these flavorings.
So why would the Center for Tobacco Products make such a false assertion?
It appears that the statement was made for purely political reasons: it was made in the context of trying to praise the successes of the legislation. In other words, the false claim was issued in an attempt to make a political, rather than a scientific statement.
And this is what concerns me. If the Center for Tobacco Products is willing to distort the facts for political purposes now, what reason do we have to believe that it will not distort the science in the future? Is this really the kind of behavior that we want from a supposedly scientific agency making what are supposed to be scientific decisions and promulgating what are supposed to be science-based policies?
The rest of the story is that the Center has distorted the truth about flavored cigarettes and their role in youth smoking, apparently for political purposes. This is not an auspicious start for the Center, and I think the public deserves better.