Kiddie puffin’ stuff outlawed

Island councilmen concur in ban on products that look more like candy than cigarettes

They are sold right next to the candy and gum at stores across Staten Island — products like strawberry-flavored mini-cigars packaged like lip gloss.

And they will soon be illegal.

Calling it a move that will help save children from a dangerous addiction, the City Council voted yesterday to ban sales of almost all flavored tobacco products, including small cigars and chewing tobacco.

The bill, expected to be signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is the latest bit of bad news for the tobacco industry and smokers in the city, who already have been banned from all public buildings and restaurants and have seen taxes on cigarettes skyrocket.

Yesterday’s ban is intended to close a loophole in a law enacted in June by the federal Food and Drug Administration banning the manufacture, importation, marketing and distribution of cigarettes made to taste like candy, fruit and cloves. Since the legal definition of a cigarette is vague, manufacturers found a way to circumvent the ban by repackaging products to make them attractive to kids, like smaller “cigarillos” and SNUS, pouches of flavored tobacco used like snuff.

The American Lung Association estimates that 11,000 stores in the city carry such products.

“Anyone who tells you that these bubblegum, cookie dough, chocolate chip, little cigarillos shaped like a pink lip gloss — don’t tell me that’s not targeted at a young girl. These are not being bought by 50-year-old women, the data shows that,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan).

Members of the Island Council delegation voted yes to the ban, though not before expressing concern that this latest health-centered sanction may be too far-reaching, and speculation that it may not withstand a legal challenge by the tobacco industry. Council Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) said he was “troubled that a well-intentioned bill could have been more narrow.”

“I am faced with the choice of being big government, taking a legal product away from adults and their ability to make a decision, or allowing the tobacco industry to do what they have always done, which is find new customers. But when you have a difficult choice and have to err on one side, you have to err on the side of the kids,” Oddo said before his vote yesterday.

Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) said he was convinced when he visited a store in Great Kills that sells the products, and his 2-year-old daughter “couldn’t keep her hands off them.” Though the bill has flaws, he said he didn’t want “perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

“In the end, it was a tough choice between taking away a choice and protecting children,” Ignizio said.

The data to which Ms. Quinn referred are from surveys of city high school students that found while overall tobacco use declined 61 percent between 1999 and 2007, the use of smokeless tobacco increased by 69 percent. The percentage of student smokers who smoked only cigars and cigarillos has almost tripled since 2001, from five to 14 percent, the study found.

Flavors banned include “any fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, mint, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice. Menthol or clove flavors are excluded, as are non-tobacco smoking products such as those traditionally used in Middle Eastern hookahs. Penalties for violating the ban range from a $500 fine for the first offense, to a $2000 fine and suspension of tobacco license for multiple offenses within a year.

The FDA has been looking at whether to add more of those products to its ban.


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