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CDC Survey Shows Underage Smoking Rates at Historic Lows

November 6, 2023 By Matthew Tabacco
FDA Updates

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released the results of its annual survey on youth tobacco use, which found that underage use is falling to historic lows. 

Considered the most reliable data on underage tobacco use, the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) this year found decreases in use across almost all categories. As it relates to middle and high school students who used tobacco products, this group was least likely to use “cigars,” with the rate falling from 2.8% to 1.8% over the last year.

While all reduction in underage tobacco use is cause for celebration, it is important to note that the data collected still fails to differentiate between premium cigars, which demonstrate nearly no detectable youth use at all, and mass-market cigar products. Mass-market cigars represent the vast majority of the underage cigar use, are typically sold at lower prices, and sometimes mimic cigarettes in form and function. 

Because there is no evidence of meaningful youth use of premium cigars, continuing to report these different categories of products as a single type conflates youth-usage data and could make under-age mass-market cigar use appear lower than it is in reality.

Cigar Rights of America (CRA) urges CDC to follow the U.S. House of Representatives’ encouragement to update the cigar category for the next wave of NYTS data, separating premium and mass-market products (H.R. Rpt. 117-403, at 82). While CDC declined to modify the NYTS questionnaire after that encouragement from the House, including this question would give the data significantly more granularity and give Americans a clearer picture of the real trends in youth use.

To accurately capture this data, CDC should update the 2024 NYTS questionnaire by using the definition that has been adopted by the federal courts, which defines a premium cigar as one that: 

  • Is wrapped in a whole tobacco leaf;
  • Contains a 100% leaf tobacco binder;
  • Contains at least 50 percent (of the filler by weight) long filler tobacco (i.e., whole tobacco leaves that run the length of the cigar);
  • Is handmade or hand rolled (i.e., no machinery was used apart from simple tools, such as scissors to cut the tobacco prior to rolling);
  • Has no filter, nontobacco tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece;
  • Does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco;
  • Contains only tobacco, water, and vegetable gum with no other ingredients or additives; and
  • Weighs more than 6 pounds per 1,000 units.

In an email from the Cigar Rights of America, the CRA said, “CRA firmly opposes all underage tobacco use, and we believe the first step to preventing it is collecting accurate data on the problem. We hope CDC will act to obtain the clearest data on this important issue.”

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