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Many Americans switching to alternative tobacco products, CDC finds

Published: Friday, Aug. 3 2012 2:42 p.m. MDT

A box of cigars is displayed at the Havana Connections cigar shop, in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, June 20, 2012.

Steve Helber, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Cigarette smoking has declined in the past decade, but that doesn't mean Americans have kicked the nicotine habit. Americans are transitioning from cigarettes to cigars and pipes, which are typically cheaper and less regulated yet still satisfy cravings.

That doesn't make them safer, health experts and critics say.

Cigarette consumption dropped 33 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to a TIME article, but a new report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found a 123 percent increase in the use of other tobacco products like cigars and pipes.

"Sales of these other forms of tobacco — which are taxed at significantly lower rates than both cigarettes and tobacco specifically labeled 'roll your own' — have soared in recent years, the CDC said. The amount of loose pipe tobacco sold in 2011 was enough to make 17.5 billion cigarettes, a sixfold increase over the amount sold in 2008, which was equivalent to 2.6 billion cigarettes," reports the New York Times.

The federal tobacco tax was increased in 2009, according to TIME, so tobacco manufacturers did some reworking of their products, such as modifying the size of small cigars and labeling products differently to get around the tax.

"The disparity in tax treatment of tobacco products is undercutting our ability to effectively reduce tobacco use and save lives," said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, in a statement to USA Today. "Tax loopholes harm public health by encouraging use of lower-taxed tobacco products. … More smokers who might otherwise quit are now resorting to other types of tobacco products, including cigars and pipe tobacco, because of lower taxes resulting in overall lower costs. The CDC's findings are consistent with a Government Accountability Office report issued in April that found the same disparities in consumption of smoked tobacco products."

Many of these products are more attractive to consumers, especially teens, because of looser regulations that allow for different labeling and product content.

"These little cigars may also be particularly appealing to teens, the authors of the report say, because they come in a variety of flavors, including vanilla and chocolate," reports TIME. "Since cigars and pipe tobacco aren’t regulated by the FDA like cigarettes are, they can not only be flavored, but manufacturers can also label them 'light' or 'low tar' and market them with fewer restrictions."

Despite a different label or additive, these products are no safer than traditional cigarettes.

"They look like cigarettes," said the CDC's Michael Tynan, co-author of the report, in the USA Today article. "They smoke like cigarettes. They taste better than a cigarette, because they have flavors. They are cheaper than cigarettes, because of the tax issues. But they are just as deadly. They contain the same toxic chemicals."

Experts say that as long as there are loopholes in policy, the tobacco industry will find a way to exploit them.

"This report demonstrates that the tobacco industry is as resourceful, and as predatory, as ever," said Thomas Gylnn, director of international cancer control at the American Cancer Society, in the USA Today article. "It also provides us with some insight into the tobacco industry's future plans. When manufactured cigarettes may, at some point in the future, no longer be their primary source of income, they will look to other ways — such as cigars, roll-your-own, various forms of smokeless tobacco — of maintaining their customer's nicotine dependence."

So despite the reduction in the smoking of traditional cigarettes, experts are finding this new trend to be just as, if not more, harmful for Americans, especially young people.

“The rise in cigar smoking, which other studies show is a growing problem among youth and young adults, is cause for alarm,” said Tim McAfee, director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, in an emailed statement to TIME. “The Surgeon General’s Report released this past March shows that getting young people to either quit smoking or never start smoking is the key to ending the tobacco epidemic, because 99 percent of all smokers start before they’re 26 years old.”

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