Flavored tobacco is what draws many young first-time smokers and may be serving as a "gateway" to subsequent nicotine addiction, a U.S. study has found.
In a survey of children between the ages of 12 and 17, 80 percent of those reporting tobacco use said the very first product that they sampled through e-cigarettes, hookahs or smokeless forms of tobacco contained candy, fruit or other flavorings.
Such flavors, whether smoked, vaped or chewed, are a powerful draw for uninitiated users, researchers with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Although flavorings are banned in cigarettes sold in the U.S.—with the exception of menthol—noncigarette tobacco products with fruity, spicy, tangy, or minty flavorings are available and easily purchased, they say.
In the FDA survey, most teenage tobacco users reported using a tobacco product containing flavors sometime in the previous 30 days.
It all adds up to a worrying situation, health experts say, since every day an estimated 3,200 American children try some form of tobacco product for the first time.
"This confirms our worst fears," says Dr. Norman Edelman, a scientific adviser to the American Lung Association. "Young people are being hooked on tobacco products through the use of flavoring that appeals to them. When you see flavorings like bubble gum in a tobacco product, it's obvious who they're appealing to."
Other experts noted the tendency for young people to easily become addicted to tobacco. Youth-oriented flavors entice children and teens to try tobacco products, which can contribute to the development of a nicotine addiction, experts explain.
That often creates an easy gateway to a lifetime habit of smoking traditional cigarettes.
According to Patricia Folan of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., just a single experience with tobacco can result in addiction.
In early 2014 the FDA said it was considering placing new regulations on all forms of tobacco products, and among those could be a ban against flavorings.
However, final regulations have not yet been put in place.
Experts say they are long overdue, especially when it comes to flavored products.
Stricter tobacco control measures, such as already exist for traditional cigarettes, should result in teens being less likely to use the flavored products.