Barack Obama, the onetime super-cool-looking teen smoker (see pictures here), said today in the Rose Garden that candy is not cool for kids when it comes in the form of a cigarette.
Each day, 1,000 young people under the age of 18 become new regular, daily smokers, and almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday. I know; I was one of these teenagers. And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time. I also know that kids today don’t just start smoking for no reason. They’re aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They’re exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting.
The law Obama signed does a lot of things. It establishes FDA regulation of tobacco products, bans sweet-tooth smokes, mandates greater additive disclosure, restricts the use of adjectives like “mild,” “low,” and “light,” expands the size of warning labels on cigarettes, and bans tobacco companies from making t-shirts/baseball caps with logos, or sponsoring athletic/entertainment events. Obama cast the win as a major blow against the tobacco lobby, which it no doubt is. He did not mention the great irony of the new law: The nation’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, which has 50 percent of the U.S. cigarette market, supported the bill. Forbes explains why:
[The new law] solidifies the position of the producer with the greatest market share. . . . Because the domestic cigarette market is shrinking every year, manufacturers are competing fiercely for customers. Companies like R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco argue that under FDA regulation, they’ll have trouble convincing people to switch to their brands because of stringent advertising restrictions.
R.J. Reynolds, by the way, is one of the companies most enthusiastic about the fun-flavored cigarette thing. See some of the ads here.