Sep. 23, 2009

For cigarette smokers, a more bitter taste

In less than a week, clove cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco will be pulled from the shelves, substantiating the Food and Drug Administration's first directive controlling the sale of tobacco products. "It continues to be a shock every day for customers," said Co-owner of Davis Newsbeat, Janis Lott. 
On June 22, President Barack Obama signed into law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, effectively giving the FDA wide ranging authority to regulate tobacco. 
Flavored tobacco was the first targeted because critics say artificial additives like cherry, grape, chocolate, and spiced cigarettes such as cloves, appeal to youths and lays the groundwork for a smoking addiction. The law only applies to rolled cigarettes, and menthols were spared in this particular prohibition. 
In other words, mint is out, but menthols are acceptable. According to Lott, Nat Sherman's Hint of Mint packaging will soon read "menthol," but it's contents will be unaffected. As for cloves, Lott said, "there is a contingent of people who buy these cigarettes," adding that flavored tobacco constitutes about 15 percent of the cigarettes sold at Newsbeat. Kretek International Inc., which imports Djarum-brand cloves from Indonesia, holds a 97 percent U.S. market share with its line of Djarum clove cigarettes, a staple of Indonesian smoking culture. The U.S. market for clove cigarettes is about $140 million annually, with about 1.25 million clove smokers.Cloves have been imported to the U.S. since the 1960s and are mostly smoked by people younger than 30. 
With America as Kretek International's fifth largest importer, the company has found a loop hole in the FDAs ban. Kretek is now manufacturing cigars, close to the size of a cigarette and flavored with clove, vanilla and cherry. The difference? Cigarettes are wrapped in thin paper, cigars in tobacco leaves. While the cigars also are made with a different kind of tobacco, the taste is similar. The cigars come 12 to a pack, rather than 20 for cigarettes, but cost nearly half as much. 
But the Djarum-brand facelift may not appeal to all smokers. Andy Singh, owner of the Tobacco Store in Woodland, said a customer recently purchased ten packs of the clove cigarettes in anticipation of the prohibition. 
Oddly enough, that same customer first told Singh that selling flavored cigarettes would become illegal on Sept. 22. 
"I don't smoke so the customers know better than I do," Singh said. But delayed notification from either the FDA, or state and county agencies that manage tobacco licenses, according to Lott, means little time to inform customers and scale back on purchasing from vendors. 
It wasn't until Monday that the FDA issued a letter to members of the industry warning of prosecution to those selling what they labeled as "adulterated products," beyond Sept. 22. 
The letter reads, "manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may be subject to injunction actions, civil money penalties, and/or criminal prosecution for violating the requirements of the Act." 
Lott ordered several cartons of cloves requested by customers, but for the most part is pairing down purchases. Singh has stopped purchasing the cigarettes and said he will throw away what remains after the cutoff date. 
Lott said the decision to ban flavored tobacco is politically driven and indicative of a "nanny state." "Eliminating tobacco products all together will never happen because it's easy to vilify and it's easy to tax," she said. "I don't know what's right or wrong, I just have to go with the flow." 
Future directive under the FSPTCA include the revision and strengthening of cigarette warning labels that will also contain a list of ingredients, as well as the elimination of the terms light, low, and mild on tobacco products.