Flavored tobacco products attract young people who also consider them less harmful, researchers say.
The University of North Carolina team reviewed 40 studies conducted in the United States and other countries to assess people’s attitudes about non-menthol tobacco flavors such as cherry, cotton candy and coffee.
“We found that flavors for most tobacco products have a universal and rather strong appeal to youth and young adults, and that they were perceived as less harmful among younger people,” said review first author Li-Ling Huang in a university news release. She is a research collaborator at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
For example, some of the studies found that cigarette packs without flavor descriptions were less appealing to girls and young women. And a study from the United Kingdom found that teens believed that e-cigarettes with cherry and candy flavors were less harmful than tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes.
Other studies showed that flavors were a common reason why people — especially teens — experimented with, progressed to and regularly used tobacco products. The studies showed that users of all ages preferred flavored tobacco products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned flavored tobacco cigarettes, with the exception of menthol-and-tobacco-flavored cigarettes, in 2009. But there’s currently no ban on flavored cigarillos, cigars, hookahs or e-cigarettes in the United States, other than a restriction on the sale of these products to minors.
Banning non-menthol flavors like fruit and candy could reduce use of most tobacco products worldwide, especially among young people, according to the authors of the review that was published in the journal Tobacco Control.
“This review shows that non-menthol flavors in most tobacco products appear to play a vital role in how users and even nonusers perceive, use and continue using tobacco products,” said senior author Dr. Adam Goldstein, a professor at the university’s School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine.
“Increasingly, countries around the world are interested in — and some have started — regulating or banning non-menthol flavors as a way to cut tobacco consumption. This research supports expansion and acceleration of that movement,” he added.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on youth and tobacco.