The proliferation of new flavored brands comes at a time when advertising and marketing restrictions in the 1998 MSA have made it more difficult to target young smokers. These increased restrictions may be prompting manufacturers to turn to product innovations to attract new smokers. As observed by Gregory Connolly, the packaging and imagery of flavored products serve as powerful new sources of promotion and advertising, particularly when coupled with tailored advertising and marketing found on interactive Web sites (such as Camel Smokes and Salem Access) that further capitalize on product novelty. The limited seasonal availability of these flavored products provides further evidence of their role as “starter” cigarettes rather than as regular brands intended to create and foster brand loyalty.
Published research demonstrates a compelling link between youth-targeted product innovations and smoking behavior. For example, flavored cigarettes can promote youth initiation and help young occasional smokers to become daily smokers by reducing or masking the natural harshness and taste of tobacco smoke and increasing the acceptability of a toxic product. Yet the potential influence of flavored cigarettes on youth initiation might go unrecognized without efforts to increase awareness.
Coordinated public education and community action are needed to inform youth about tobacco industry deception and confront the tobacco industry, especially in the absence of governmental regulation. A recently produced anti-smoking advertisement on flavored cigarettes released by the American Legacy Foundation as part of its “Truth” mass media campaign provides one example of aggressive public awareness strategies. Community groups must also be vigilant and fight back against manufacturers who target high-risk groups with flavored brands. As evidenced by the recent success of the Chicago-based coalition that ended B&W’s Kool Campaign promoting flavored brands, community action can be powerful and effective.
Regulatory action is an appropriate response to the serious public health concerns raised by the introduction of new product delivery technologies, such as the flavor pellet in the Camel Exotic Blend Twist filter. Little is known regarding the delivery characteristics or possible health risks associated with these products. The use of flavor technologies has not been disclosed to public health officials, and in the case of the flavored pellet, the device is concealed from the consumer, unless the pellet is dislodged from the filter and exposed. The limited availability of internal industry testing clearly underscores the need for independent studies to assess the effects of new technologies on the delivery and toxicity of these new products.
Pending federal legislation would require disclosure of additives to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and regulation of tobacco products, including a prohibition of candylike flavors. A number of states (including New York, Minnesota, West Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas) have also introduced legislation to ban candy-flavored cigarettes. Regulation of product additives or technologies also could be warranted in the case of evidence substantiating increased health risks or influence on youth smoking.
Although the MSA ban on youth targeting was designed to protect youth, past research suggests that major tobacco manufacturers have failed to comply with the MSA’s youth-targeting prohibitions regarding magazine advertising of cigarettes. Evidence demonstrating that new brands and promotions target and promote youth smoking could prompt the state attorneys general to investigate violations of the MSA and determine whether the sale of such products violates fair trade practices under state consumer protection law. Thus, in addition to promoting public awareness and taking action at the community level in response to youth-targeted products, policymakers should support legislation prohibiting manufacturers from adding these candylike flavors to tobacco products.