The following is a statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:
Two new studies published today by the CDC and the FDA demonstrate the urgent need for the FDA to issue its long-overdue final rule regulating all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and cigars, and to expand the current ban on candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes to include all flavored tobacco products.
The first study shows that despite its claims to have changed, the tobacco industry continues to lure kids into nicotine addiction with a wide assortment of sweet-flavored products.
Based on data from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the study finds that 70 percent of U.S. middle and high school tobacco users have used at least one flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days. Among youth who used each of the following tobacco products in the past 30 days (considered current users), 63.3 percent (1.58 million) had used a flavored e-cigarette, 60.6 percent (1.02 million) had used flavored hookah tobacco, 63.5 percent (910,000) had used a flavored cigar, 58.8 percent (690,000) had used flavored smokeless tobacco, and 53.6 percent (900,000) had used menthol cigarettes. About 18 percent of all high school students reported using at least one flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days, far more than the 5.8 percent who reported using only non-flavored products.
Tobacco industry documents show the industry has long recognized that sweet flavors mask the harshness of tobacco and attract new tobacco users, especially kids. While a 2009 federal law banned sweet-flavored cigarettes, tobacco companies have introduced cheap cigars in a rainbow of youth-friendly flavors from watermelon to chocolate, and e-cigarettes are now available in literally thousands of flavors, including gummy bear, cotton candy and even "unicorn puke." And the FDA has yet to take action to ban menthol cigarettes despite the conclusions of its own 2013 report that menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction and decreased success in quitting smoking.
Today's study shows why it must be a priority for the FDA to ban all flavored tobacco products. Once and for all, it's time to stop tobacco companies from targeting kids with flavors like menthol, watermelon and gummy bear.
The second study provides important new data showing that many youth e-cigarette users aren't just experimenting with these new products, but using them on a regular basis.
As reported earlier this year, the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that rates of youth e-cigarette use tripled from 2013 to 2014, with current (past 30 days) use among high school students rising from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014. Today's study takes a deeper look at the same survey results and reports on frequency of use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. Among those students who had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, it found that 15.5 percent of high school students and 11.8 percent of middle school students had used e-cigarettes on at least 20 days, which is considered frequent use. This amounts to an estimated 340,000 middle and high school students who were frequent users of e-cigarettes. Among high school e-cigarette users, the study found that 38.4 percent had used e-cigarettes on at least six days in the previous month.
In another troubling finding, the study reports that a large majority of youth e-cigarette users also used other tobacco products. Among students who reported using e-cigarettes on 1-5 days in the past 30 days, 54.8 percent reported using multiple tobacco products. As the frequency of e-cigarette use rises, use of multiple tobacco products rises as well.
These studies show why the FDA and the Obama Administration must act without further delay to protect our kids by issuing a final rule to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars. It is inexcusable that the FDA and the Administration have missed deadline after deadline even as the evidence mounts that these unregulated products pose serious threats to the health of our children. We cannot afford more delays that allow tobacco companies to keep targeting kids with sweet flavors and other tactics.
The studies were published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).