Bubblegum, cotton candy, chocolate are just a few of the tempting flavours often added to tobacco consumed by American children and teens.
Now, an analysis of the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey finds that seven in 10 middle and high school students who used tobacco in the previous month have used at least one flavoured tobacco product.
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"Flavoured tobacco products are enticing a new generation of America's youth into nicotine addiction, condemning many of them to tobacco-related disease and early death," Dr Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a CDC news release.
One expert agreed that more should be done to curb uptake of these products.
A deadly habit
"Although flavourings in cigarettes, except for menthol, have been banned by the U.S. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act for the last several years, over 7,000 flavours that entice adolescents remain in many other tobacco products," said Pat Folan, director of the Centre for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, New York.
Folan said that while most kids understand that smoking is a deadly habit, "the attractive flavours in products, such as e-cigarettes, hookah, cigars and smokeless tobacco, have led young people to perceive them as less harmful."
The new study was led by Linda Neff of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. Her team looked at the survey data and found that about 63 percent of the students who used tobacco products nearly 1.6 million children and teens had used a flavoured electronic cigarette.
In addition, among the students who used tobacco, nearly 61 percent (about one million) had used flavoured water pipe tobacco, about 63 percent (910,000) had smoked a flavoured cigar, nearly 59 percent (690,000) had used flavoured smokeless tobacco, nearly 54 percent (900,000) had puffed on menthol cigarettes, and about 42 percent (120,000) had used flavoured tobacco in pipes, the findings showed.
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High school students were more likely than middle school students to use flavoured tobacco, the study found. About 18 percent of all high school students said they used at least one flavoured tobacco product in the previous 30 days, compared with just under 6 percent who said they used only non-flavoured tobacco products.
Need for more regulation
Rates were similar for boys and girls, according to the report.
"Given the popularity of flavoured tobacco products among youth, it's critical to address flavourings in all tobacco products," Brian King, deputy director for research translation in CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said in the news release. "Efforts to curb the availability and use of flavoured tobacco products could help reduce overall rates of tobacco use among our nation's youth," he added.
For example, some cities have restricted or limited the sales of flavoured tobacco products, the CDC news release pointed out.
Folan agrees with such measures.
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"The CDC study demonstrates the need for more regulation of not only traditional cigarettes, but all tobacco products," she said. "Prohibiting flavours in tobacco products will decrease the probability that they will be used by young people."
Another expert said the very young are especially vulnerable to picking up and sticking with the smoking habit.
"A previous study showed that adolescents who smoke from age 13 to 17 are the least likely group to quit smoking," said D Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"The fact that flavouring nicotine entices this group to enjoy nicotine for flavour and for the drug effect is worrisome evidence that a group of lifelong smokers is being created," he said. "E-cigarettes are a transition to smoking for too many as it is, and adding flavour may 'seal the deal'."
The study was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
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Image: Popular flavoured tobacco brand from Wikipedia