Flavored Tobacco Ban, Stronger Than FDA's, Gets Council Vote Today

The city council is going to vote today on a bill that will ban all kinds of flavored tobacco products in the city -- with a big exception made for the biggest category of flavored tobacco, menthol and wintergreen cigarettes.

It's the latest in a round of bad news for smokers, who are already banned from smoking indoors, pay extra taxes -- and may soon be prohibited from smoking on park benches, if Mayor Bloomberg has his way.

The Food and Drug Administration banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes last month, as well as herb-flavored cigarettes like cloves. The city bill, which is expected to pass today, goes a step further than the federal government --- by placing the same ban on flavored cigars, chewing tobacco, and little cigarillos that are sold at bodegas are kind of like a cross between a cigarette and a cigar. (The FDA warned tobacco companies last month to think twice about trying to get around the federal ban by producing more flavored cigarillos.)

Mayor Bloomberg will vote on the bill in a month and, as the self-appointed head of the vice police, will probably support it...

The government was only able to get Big Tobacco to agree to the flavoring ban by making the exception for menthols -- which, by disguising the harsh tobacco flavor, lure adolescents to start smoking. In 2004, 17-year-old smokers were more than three times as likely as those over the age of 25 to smoke flavored cigarettes.

The city has released statistics claiming that anti-tobacco measures -- especially the tax on cigarettes -- has reduced the number of overall smokers in New York by more than 11 percent. The biggest decreases have been among women, especially low-income Hispanic women. But the whole category of flavored cigarettes represents just a fraction of all the smoking products sold in the country.

Since we're discussing the politics of flavoring, it's also worth asking --what actually constitutes a flavor? The candy, fruit, and herb flavorings, whether natural or artifical, that are being banned are technically additives. But cigarettes have thousands of other additives in them, all of which have an effect on flavor (and make cigarettes more addictive). Though, as of September, the government now has the power to regulate all cigarette ingredients, last month's ban on fruit-flavorings won't impact those other additives, at least for now. Image (cc) kouk.

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