The faint scent of cherry, vanilla or chocolate can no longer be detected in the cigarette smoke that lingers over the small patch of asphalt leading past Rand Hall or the walkway adjoining Uris and Olin Libraries. The smoke of regular, straight tobacco prevails these days as a direct result of a recent federal ban on cigarettes enhanced with fragrances.
The ban, which took effect Sept. 22, applies to the manufacture, shipment or sale of cigarettes flavored to taste like cloves, candy or fruit. As part of a national effort by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce smoking in the United States, this provision belongs to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law on June 22.
Under this legislation, the FDA has the authority to regulate the marketing and manufacture of tobacco products, though it cannot ban regular cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco.
“… A cigarette or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) shall not contain, as a constituent…or additive, an artificial flavor or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke,” according to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
The FDA maintains that cigarettes flavored to taste like cloves, candy or fruit lure children into smoking. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. stated that approximately 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking as teenagers in a news release last month. These flavored cigarettes act as a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers, according to Hamburg.
While the ban also applies to flavored loose tobacco, which smokers can use to roll their own cigarettes, it does not extend its reach to pipe tobacco — such as the tobacco used in hookahs — chewing tobacco or cigars.
One notable exemption is menthol-flavored cigarettes, which remain legal in the wake of the month-old ban. Congress explicitly declined to prohibit mentholated cigarettes, which are statistically the most popular type of flavored cigarettes and a significant source of revenue to tobacco companies. A federal menthol ban could potentially spark an enormous bootlegging crisis, according to congressional aides and tobacco activists, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.
The legislation outlining the ban, however, fails to clearly define what constitutes a cigarette. The primary distinction between cigarettes and cigars is the wrapping: while cigarettes feature tobacco wrapped with paper, cigars feature tobacco wrapped in tobacco or paper derived from tobacco. Another tobacco product, the cigarillo, is smaller than a typical cigar but larger than a small cigar.
Confusion remains over whether cigarillos like Black & Mild — which manufactures cigarillos with flavors such as apple, cherry, and vanilla — fall under the scope of the ban. Clove cigars are also stirring controversy. According to Prof. Richard Klein, Romance Studies, “clove cigarette manufacturers, [primarily] based in Indonesia, have already found ways to circumvent the law by manufacturing little clove ‘cigars’ which do not fall into its purview.”
Kretek International, Inc., the top national distributor of clove cigarettes, has recently filed a lawsuit against the FDA for “deliberately obfuscating” the “definition of a cigarette.” The distributor’s new line of Djarum clove cigars have come under investigation by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In the local Cornell and Ithaca communities, smokers and non-smokers alike question the effectiveness of the ban and its objective of deterring youth from smoking.
Mary Godec ’11 lauded the notion of trying to reduce smoking among youth, but doubted the impact the ban will continue to have. “The FDA ban is a step in the right direction, as far as preventing younger people from starting a bad habit is concerned, but it won’t be a particularly effective step,” she said. “New smokers will likely turn to menthol cigarettes, the only flavored cigarette left in the market.”
Godec also disagreed with the authority granted to the FDA to regulate tobacco products. “The ban hasn’t affected me directly, but it has made an impact in the sense that it’s yet another infringement on my freedom to smoke,” she said.
Admitting that the ban on flavored cigarettes could potentially deter a subset of the youth from smoking, Shachia Kyaagba ’11 still harbored some skepticism. “I believe the ban will reduce the number of children who start to smoke, but not by a significant quantity,” he said. “Peer pressure is still there, so kids will still start to smoke regardless of the flavor of the tobacco.”
Drawing from his personal experiences, Jin-Sung Kim ’11 noted that he has never observed somebody start to smoke with flavored cigarettes. “The effectiveness of such a ban seems tenuous at best. Most smokers [that I know] have experimented with flavored cigarettes only after smoking for a while,” he said. “It seems like this ban might be hurting clove cigarette aficionados more than it is helping keep the youth smoke-free.”
Local Ithaca smoke shops have felt the subtle effects of the ban, as consumers look for close substitutes to flavored cigarettes. According to Brian Watson, a sales employee at Mayers’ Smokeshop and Newsstand, “[the ban] has made a small dent [in sales], but the ban seems to be more punitive than anything to be concerned about.”
Eric Thorsen, a sales employee at Mayers’ Smokeshop and Newsstand, called the ban “silly” as well. “I think just as many kids are attracted to menthols as they are cloves,” he said. “I don’t think [the ban] will have much of an effect in terms of reducing the number of children who start to smoke.”
Patty McNally, store manager of Mayer’s Smokesshop and Newsstand, has observed changes in the buying habits of customers who prefer flavored cigarettes.
“Maybe 5 percent of my customers smoke clove cigarettes,” she said. “Those smokers have turned to other tobacco products, such as flavored cigars, now that they can no longer get ahold of what they want.”
“It’s a sort of substitution effect going on with this ban. Consumers will just buy other flavored tobacco products. Kids who want to smoke will still smoke,” Thorsen said.