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Anti-cancer groups want candy-flavored cigars banned

Anti-cancer groups are seeking to ban the sale of fruit and chocolate flavored cigars in New York state that they say are target to children.

The products include chocolate, strawberry and grape flavored cigars, which sell for under a dollar at common convenience stores. Also available on line are gummy bear and cookie dough flavored chewing tobacco and other related products. Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, says they aren’t candy, but are actual tobacco products aimed at kids to try to get them used to using the addictive substance.

“All of these products are designed clearly, in the way they are packaged, in the way they are priced, in the way they taste, to attract new smokers, new tobacco users in New York,” Horner said.

The Cancer Society says 88 percent of tobacco users start before the age of 18. Half of all smokers die of a tobacco related illness.

State health department data shows the use of these types of tobacco products are up. Smoking and other tobacco use by teens reached a low point in 2006, but now it’s steadily rising and coincides with the proliferation of the candy flavored cigars, chewing tobacco and other items.

Christine Nash, mother of a nine year old, says she’s concerned.

“You don’t need to be an advertising executive to know that these products are not intended for me,” Nash said. “Actually, when I first saw the packaging of these little cigars I thought they were candy. And I’m sure that’s no accident.”  

Congress banned candy imitation cigarettes and cigars several years ago. The candy flavored tobacco products are currently illegal in New York City. But Horner says there’s a border effect, with teens from New York City going to Westchester County and Long Island to obtain the products.

The sponsor of the bill  to ban the candy flavored cigars and chewing tobacco in the state Assembly is Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, of Westchester.

Horner, who says he couldn’t believe it when he saw the candy flavored tobacco products, expects that once more lawmakers find out about the widespread availability of the seemingly child-friendly tobacco products, they’ll also want to sign on to a bill to ban them everywhere in New York state. There’s three weeks left in the legislative session, which he says is plenty of time.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.