A new study in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health measures brand usage trends and the prevalence of cigar use among specific populations. The study, funded by Legacy, the nation’s largest organization devoted to tobacco use prevention and cessation, is the first of its kind.
Cigars and cigarillos have become an emerging issue in tobacco control in recent years, in part because of their appeal to young people through lower prices and sweet flavors. Little cigars are similar in size and appearance to cigarettes. Unlike cigarettes, which are wrapped in white paper, little cigars are wrapped in a brown, paper-like substance that contains some tobacco leaf. Cigarillos are longer, slimmer versions of a large cigar. Increased use of these products is of particular concern, as users may believe that cigarillos and little cigars are less harmful than cigarettes.
However, like cigarettes, cigars and affiliated products pose significant health risks, contributing to cancers of the mouth, lung, esophagus, and larynx and possibly contributing to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“The increased use of these products is extremely troubling. Little cigars and cigarillos are obviously a serious public health threat and this study confirms the products are popular among both young adults and minorities,” said Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, president and chief executive officer of Legacy. “While much effort has been focused over the past decade to increasing awareness about cigarettes and the dangers of smoking, cigar products have emerged as a profitable product for tobacco companies that, unlike cigarettes, are currently unregulated by the FDA and are taxed at a much lower rate. Unfortunately, young adults are taking the bait and the growth in this market is a troubling concern for the public health.”
The study, Seven-Year Patterns in U.S. Cigar Use Epidemiology Among Young Adults Aged 19-25 Years: A Focus on Race/Ethnicity and Brand, is the first of its kind on this issue. Results found that the top five brands most frequently smoked were Black & Mild, Swisher Sweets, Phillies, White Owl, and Garcia y Vega, all of which are primarily cigarillos or little cigar products. Use of these top five brands was more prevalent among those who were younger, male, Black non-Hispanics, with a propensity for risk behavior, and those reporting current cigarette, marijuana, and blunt use.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study founded on U.S. nationally representative data that documents trends in current cigar use and top brands smoked,” says co-author and Legacy researcher Jane Allen. “However, cigarillos are not currently tracked and measured as a separate cigar category. With these products increasing in popularity among young adults, further studies about ‘usual brand’ use will increase the accuracy of reports about cigarillo and little cigar use in the U.S.”
Cigars can be just as harmful as cigarettes. To date, cigarillos and little cigars are not regulated compared to cigarettes. In addition, lower taxes on these products (thus lower price points) may lead smokers to choose cigars and cigarillos over cigarettes. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act allowed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban all flavors of cigarettes except menthol; however, such restrictions on cigars were not put into place. Cigars continue to come in a variety of flavors, such as like cherry, chocolate, vanilla, peach rum, raspberry and sour apple. Additionally, packaging on these products does not always carry a warning label, and so health warnings may go unnoticed by cigar users.
Legacy, the national non-profit organization known for a youth smoking prevention campaign worked with a wide range of organizations to monitor and bring attention to the rising health risks associated with little cigar consumption.