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Published: Saturday, 8/18/2012

Stale smoke

The latest survey of tobacco use among young Americans offers good news about the prevalence of cigarette smoking, but highlights a disturbing trend in the use of cigars and smokeless tobacco.

The annual National Youth Tobacco Survey, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports that cigarette smoking rates continue to fall, with new lows of 15.8 percent among high school students and 4.3 percent among middle schoolers. Those rates are half the peak rates recorded in the mid-1990s.

Anti-smoking forces have learned what works in the campaign against cigarette smoking: higher tobacco taxes, funding for cessation and prevention programs, strong laws against smoking in public places, and appropriate regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

The tobacco industry has learned some lessons too. The survey provides sad confirmation that tobacco companies are successfully exploiting discrepancies in the law. Candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes are banned, but manufacturers have sidestepped the prohibitions with cigars, because they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

There has been a major increase in cigar smoking among African-American high schoolers, from 7.1 percent in 2009 to 11.7 percent last year. Among all high-school boys, 15.7 percent smoke cigars and 12.9 percent use smokeless tobacco.

The FDA should assert jurisdiction over all tobacco products. Congress should close loopholes that help the industry lure new, young customers with cheap, sweet cigars that look and smoke like cigarettes.

Cigars and smokeless tobacco are cheap because they are taxed differently from cigarettes in many states, including Ohio. Lawmakers should close that gap.

The insidious use of flavors and marketing geared to young people is no different from previous campaigns that enticed generations of young people to take up a habit that made smoking the nation's leading cause of preventable disease. These tactics must be snuffed out.

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