Alternative Tobacco Use Outpaces Cigarette Smoking Among Teens

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – Teenagers are well aware of the dangers of smoking but millions still light up every day. Part of the reason, according to some experts, is tobacco companies are luring them with kid-friendly tobacco products. Walk into any convenience store and you will see cigars that look and smell like candy but are just as dangerous as the real thing.

Students outside Everett High School were eager to tell us how popular these tobacco products are. “I started with a honey flavored cigar,” one girl told us. A boy told us they are very popular with high school students. “Especially the grape flavored,” he said.

According to Stephen Shestakofsky of Tobacco Free Massachusetts, these products are designed with kids in mind. “No self-respecting adult cigar smoker of a premium cigar is going out to buy a grape flavored cigar. These are being focused on kids,” he said.

Tobacco companies have also come out with dissolvable, smokeless tobacco products. “They look like mints or vitamins,” he said. “You can’t smoke during school so a lot of people use them during school,” one student told us.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that for the first time, use of these alternative tobacco products is now outpacing cigarette smoking among teens.

The flavorings in the cigars are a big draw, but experts like Shestakofsky say that is not the biggest problem. “Usage is up because the products are so much cheaper than cigarettes,” he said. Some stores sell cigars for as little as $.50 which is a lot easier for a kid to come up with than the $8 it costs to buy a pack of cigarettes.

So why are these flavored cigars so cheap? For one thing, these so-called other tobacco products have dodged the tax hikes that have added $2.50 to a pack of cigarettes. They are also more accessible because you can still buy single cigars. Selling loose cigarettes is illegal in Massachusetts. “Kids who are very, very price sensitive go to these products,” Shestakofsky said

The city of Boston is taking action; the sale of cigars was outlawed back in February. However, our undercover cameras found several convenience stores that are still selling them.

Even though you are supposed to be 18 to buy cigars, kids manage to get their hands on them. One Everett High student said she just quit smoking cigarettes after four years. She started in middle school when friends convinced her to try a flavored cigar. “I was like 12 and I thought it was cool,” she said.

Governor Deval Patrick’s budget includes an increase in the tax on tobacco products like cigars to bring them more in line with the taxes paid on cigarettes. Shestakofsky says every time taxes on tobacco are raised, usage goes down. He hopes that will prevent some kids from lighting up in the first place.

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