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Ban the sale of flavored cigars that target underage smokers

While Maryland pays more than $2 billion annually in tobacco-related health-care costs, the tobacco industry spends upward of $1 million an hour to market its products nationwide. Even though Congress banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, Big Tobacco continues to target youth with flavored cigars sold for as little as 69 cents and packaged to look like candy.

A new surgeon general's report finds that one in five high school males smokes cigars and that cigar use appears to be rising overall. With flavors including strawberry, chocolate chip cookie dough, pink lip gloss, wine and coffee, cigar makers mask the harsh taste of tobacco to entice young people.

The industry's marketing of flavored cigars inside brightly colored packaging coincides with a notable rise in cigar use among the nation's youth. While the state health department reports that only 1.6 percent of adults in Maryland use flavored tobacco products, underage high school youth were six times more likely to smoke such cigars. Among all underage cigar smokers, more than three-quarters use flavored cigars.

Flavored cigars appeal especially to minors in urban communities with large minority populations. Several jurisdictions have banned their sale, including Maine, New York City, and Providence, R.I.

Maryland has an opportunity to join the effort to prohibit the sale of flavored toxins. The state Senate is considering a bill that targets products favored by underage smokers while exempting the premium cigars used by adults.

The recent surgeon general's report aims to make the next generation tobacco-free. Considering that nine out of 10 smokers begin using tobacco by age 18, the General Assembly must act swiftly to combat the growing use of flavored cigars among Maryland's middle- and high-school youth.

Joe Gutberlet, Baltimore

The writer is a student attorney in the Public Health Law Clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

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