Besides proposing a rule to end the sale of menthol cigarettes, a separate newly proposed FDA rule would also eliminate flavored cigars. If the proposed rule is finalized, all flavored cigars would be removed from the marketplace. This action is important not only to reduce flavored cigar use by youth, but to make it more likely adult menthol cigarette smokers will quit. That is because small cigars often look exactly like cigarettes, and removing flavored cigars, especially menthol flavored cigars, could eliminate a product that menthol cigarette smokers could switch to.
Currently, cigars, cigarillos, and little cigars are all sold in many flavors, such as strawberry, grape, cocoa, and fruit punch. These flavors increase the appeal and make cigars easier to use, particularly for youth and young adults. By eliminating all flavors other than tobacco, the FDA hopes to discourage experimentation with these dangerous products.
Cigars and Your Health
Cigars, including flavored cigars, contain the same addictive, toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes. Similar to e-cigarettes, cigars are sometimes marketed as being a healthier alternative to cigarettes but that is untrue. In fact, one large cigar can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the lung, oral cavity, larynx and esophagus as well as cardiovascular disease. Those who smoke cigars heavily or inhale deeply also increase their risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigar smoking is also linked to gum disease and tooth loss.
Youth Cigar Use
Historically, cigar smoking is associated with older men, but increased marketing with an emphasis on the variety of flavors involved has allowed Big Tobacco to target a younger audience. According to the CDC, as of 2021, cigars were the third most used tobacco products used by U.S. middle and high school students. Overall, an estimated 160,000 youth in the U.S. use flavored cigars.
Flavored tobacco products are especially appealing to younger smokers as they may mask the harsh taste of tobacco, making it easier for children to begin smoking and become addicted to tobacco products. Young people also generally perceive cigars, and more specifically flavored cigars, as less harmful.i According to the CDC, almost 81% of 12-17 year-olds who had used a tobacco product began use with a flavored product. Previously the FDA has authorized the sale of only menthol flavoring for cigarettes, but diverse flavors have been permitted for cigars. The fact that cigars are commonly sold individually, decreasing the price paid for them, also increases their appeal for youth users.
Black Youth Use Cigars at Higher Rates
The tobacco industry has aggressively targeted Black communities with marketing for cheap, flavored cigars for decades.ii As a result, Black high school students smoke cigars at higher rates compared to other races or ethnicities; in 2021 the rates were 4.4% among Black high school students vs. 2.1% among white high school students.iii Black youth are also more likely to initiate cigarillo or little cigar use and transition to regular use at earlier ages compared to white youth.iv Black youth are often surrounded by cigar imagery, which largely contributes to the disparity in cigar use.
Making a Change
Ending the sale of flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes will save lives and help promote health equity. Here is what you can do to help. Visit the Lung Association’s Lung Action Network and send a comment to FDA in support of both proposed rules: Lung.org/ActOnMenthol. You can also raise awareness about this issue by sharing our posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
i. Huang L-L, Baker HM, Meernik C, Ranney LM, Richardson A, Goldstein AO. Impact of non-menthol flavours in tobacco products on perceptions and use among youth, young adults and adults: a systematic review. Tobacco Control 2016.
ii. Seidenberg, A.B., R.W. Caughey, V.W. Rees, et al., ‘‘Storefront Cigarette Advertising Differs by Community Demographic Profile.’’ American Journal of Health Promotion, 24(6):e26–e31, 2010. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086453/.
iii. CDC, “Tobacco Product Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2021,” MMWR 71(5), March 11, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/ss/pdfs/ss7105a1-H.pdf.
iv Chen et al. Age of Initiation of Cigarillos, Filtered Cigars and/or Traditional Cigars among Youth: Findings from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, 2013–2017. Plos One 2020; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0243372.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023