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Health Sweet smokes concern scientists

October 2, 2018

It’s a simple equation, said Richard Le Pera — if you make an activity more fun and appealing, more people will do it. As a smoking cessation coordinator at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Le Pera is leery of anything that makes tobacco more intriguing to kids.

That includes adding flavors.

“The dangers come from initializing the process of smoking in general,” Le Pera said in an email. “If we make that process easier, we only perpetuate the risk of increasing our smoking population in this country.”

A new study from Yale University researchers shows those concerns might be well-founded, as they discovered a high rate of flavoring among popular brands of cigarillos. Cigarillos are small cigars, only slightly larger than a cigarette. Unlike cigarettes — which can not be flavored with anything but menthol — cigarillos come in a wide variety of flavors. Most of those flavors are sweet, and the concern is that these sugary sensations could make cigarillos more appealing to young people.

“The fear is that, when you have (flavorings) present, it makes the cigarillos more pleasant to smoke,” said the study’s first author, Hanno Erythropel, a trainee in the Yale Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science.

The Yale research, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the six most popular brands of cigarillos in the United States, which account for 90 percent of the cigarillo market. For each brand, researchers tested a least one product promoted as having a “sweet flavor,” one marketed as an “original” or “classic” flavor and, when available, a fruit flavor, such as grape.

What the scientists found was that high-intensity sweeteners were present not only in products labeled “sweet” or with a fruit flavor, but also in those “original” and “classic” flavors.

“That was surprising to us,” Erythropel said.

Because the cigarillo wrappers are the first part of the cigarillo to touch the taste buds, Erythropel said the study largely focused on the presence of sweeteners in the wrappers. Of the the 31 cigarillo wrappers examined, 29 had high-intensity sweeteners in all tested flavors.

The sweeteners present included sucralose, which can be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, which might be part of the reason why 74 percent of the analyzed wrappers were sweeter than a sugar-free candy.

Erythropel said the Yale Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science has focused a lot on the presence of flavoring in tobacco products, and researchers previously did a project on flavorings in smokeless tobacco.

The Food and Drug Administration has mulled expanding the ban on flavors in cigarettes to other products, out of concern that these additives might make the products more appealing to children and teens. FDA research showed that 80 percent of youth ages 12 and 17 and nearly 75 percent of young adults ages 18 and 25 who were current tobacco users in 2014 reported that the first tobacco product they ever used was flavored.

The Yale study results weren’t surprising to experts like Le Pera, who said the tobacco industry has long looked to make its products more palatable to a wider range of people. He cited the addition of menthol to cigarettes as an example.

“Cigarettes, at that time, being very harsh and unfiltered was irritating to the consumer,” Le Pera said. “With the addition of menthol, cigarettes became more palatable as it presented the consumer with a cooling effect rather than an abrasive sensation.”

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