Legislators Push to Treat Candy Cigarettes Like the Real Deal

January 29, 2009 07:28 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Lawmakers in Nassau County, New York, passed a bill Monday that would require stores that sell candy cigarettes to stock them behind the counter with the real thing.

Candy Cigarette Restrictions

Citing a link between candy cigarettes and adult smoking, Nassau County, New York, legislators will require stores to restrict access to candy and bubblegum cigarettes.

Republicans questioned the validity of the proposal, put forth by Democrat Roger Corbin. One legislator, John Ciotti, argued that restricting the sale of candy cigarettes could make them even more alluring to youngsters: “Should we encourage 9-year-olds by legitimizing the candy cigarettes like real ones?” he asked.

Democrats countered that studies have shown an association between candy cigarettes and smoking later in life. Corbin asserted, “I’ve had children in school tell me they thought it would lead to real cigarettes, and there is a study that supports that.”

A Republican legislator who also serves as an attorney for a candy company disputed Corbin’s claim, saying that the research had no scientific validity.

Packaging on candy cigarettes evokes real tobacco products: many are designed to mimic cigarette logos or brands. Critics of candy cigarettes assert that this is a means of establishing brand identification or loyalty for future smokers.

In 2007, researchers at the University of Rochester found a statistical correlation between childhood experience with fake cigarettes and adult smoking. According to the study, 22 percent of adults who were or had been smokers regularly consumed candy cigarettes as children. By contrast, only 14 percent of nonsmokers had regularly eaten or played with candy cigarettes as children.

“The continued existence of these products helps promote smoking as a culturally or socially acceptable activity,” lead researcher Jonathan Klein said in a statement.

Many European countries, as well as Australia and Canada, have placed restrictions on candy cigarettes, citing a causal link between them and smoking.

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Reference: Candy cigarettes and future smokers study

Opinion and Analysis: Would banning candy cigarettes lead to smoking reduction?

Sebastian Bauhoff of Harvard’s Social Science Statistics Blog examined restrictions placed on candy cigarettes in European and Canadian countries, noting that packaging may be part of the link between candy cigarettes and smoking. “They certainly look like the real deal and might even build brand recognition,” Bauhoff writes, illustrating the point with German candy cigarettes labeled “filter tipped” and “king size” and featuring camels.

However, Bauhoff also notes that restrictions on such products would be harder to achieve in the United States, as regulations would meet resistance on the basis of limiting “commercial [free] speech.”

Related: Marketing cigarettes, liquor to youth

In 2005, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota proposed banning certain types of flavored cigarettes. Several tobacco companies were manufacturing cigarettes with sweet fruit flavors; products included “Twista Lime” and “Midnight Berry.”

Pawlenty said in a press conference that companies, “are clearly undertaking a marketing campaign to promote and market sweetened and candy-flavored cigarettes as a way to attract new smokers and expand market share among youth in Minnesota.”

By 2006, after a multi-state legal effort, major tobacco company R.J. Reynolds “agreed to stop using candy, fruit and alcohol names for flavored cigarettes that may appeal to children.” However, they did not agree to stop selling the cigarettes themselves.

Allegations of marketing to young people have caused controversy for the liquor industry as well. The New York Times reported in 2007 that many teenagers find their way to alcohol by drinking “alcopops”: drinks such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice and Zima, which taste like soda but “offer the kick of a cocktail.” A Minnesota man temporarily lost custody of his child in 2008 after accidentally serving his son Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a baseball game.

More recently, MillerCoors LLC stopped selling the alcoholic energy drink Sparks after several state attorneys general complained that the drink’s colorful packaging and apparent parallel to popular energy drinks like Red Bull were intended to appeal specifically to teenage and college-age drinkers.

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