Vanilla, orange, chocolate, cherry and coffee. These may sound like flavors of gumdrops or lollipops, but they are also varieties of tobacco, and County Health staff is not thrilled about the similarities.
The Alachua County Health Department plans to hold a candy-flavored tobacco task force meeting at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 in its main building.
Health officials said they are worried the sweet flavors will draw children to try the products.
But city businesses are worried about the task force and the growing anti-flavored-tobacco sentiments, saying they only sell flavored tobacco to adults, and task forces like this could hurt their business.
“That’s like saying whipped cream vodka will make kids drink earlier,” said Lonny Gomez, store clerk at High Tides Tobacco and Gifts. “I don’t think it makes it any more appealing.”
The task force meeting was spurred by statistics from a 2012 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey report, which stated one in six youths in Alachua County have tried flavored tobacco.
Marilyn Headley, a county tobacco prevention specialist for Tobacco Free Florida, said children are more susceptible to health risks with flavored tobacco products, such as cigars, dip and snus, because they are thought to be less harmful, have intriguing flavors and are relatively cheap.
“With flavors like cookie dough and chocolate, most adults are not using this product,” she said. “It lays the groundwork for smoking.”
In March, the Gainesville City Commission passed a resolution that stated the commission discouraged the sale of flavored tobacco because it was being marketed to children through flavoring, according to Alligator archives.
Gomez disagreed and said he always checks his customers’ IDs when they come in the door. If they are younger than 18, they must leave.
Although the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of clove cigarettes with any flavor other than menthol in 2009, gas stations, convenience stores, some grocery stores, liquor stores and smoke shops are allowed to sell candy-flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco products.
Gomez said the shop he works at sells Djarum in a variety of fruity flavors. Djarum is a brand of thin cigars that resembles cigarettes and comes in packs of 12 instead of the standard 20. He said they used to be more popular, but they are not rare or difficult to find.
Headley said companies like Swisher Sweets and White Owl make similar cigars to Djarum. She said it is interesting to see people who have never experienced the product before smell them, because the aroma is “delicious.”
Headley said the product is not as hard as other cigarettes, which is why pre-teens and children are drawn to them.
“They are more affordable,” she said. “There’s a less harsh smoke associated with them and less coughing.”
County health officials are planning a task force meeting to discuss the effects of flavored tobacco claiming candy-like flavors draw children to the product, while smoke shop owners claim only adults use the product.