BALTIMORE, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Young people are drawn to flavored cigars and cigarillos, in large part, because they are cheaper than government-regulated cigarettes, U.S. health experts say.
For example, The New York Times reported Saturday, a Baltimore grocery's chocolate-flavored little cigar is its most popular item, along with white grape, pineapple, strawberry and Da Bomb Blueberry cigarillos.
In 2009, Congress passed a law banning most flavors in cigarettes and intended to make it tougher for youngsters to smoke. It also gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration broad discretion to regulate flavors in cigars and other tobacco products such as loose-leaf tobacco.
Four years later, the agency still has not done so, the Times reported.
FDA officials said they intend to regulate cigars and other tobacco products, but haven't said how or when that will happen.
Smoking opponents said the agency's delay is impeding recent progress in reducing smoking among young people.
While cigarette sales, according to federal data, are down by a third over the last 10 years, smoking opponents said cheaper alternatives such as cigars have doubled over the same period and the flavored ones are smoked mostly by youngsters.
In recent weeks, the FDA sent warning letters to several companies that it claimed are disguising roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco, which industry analysts said has become a common way to avoid FDA regulation and federal taxes.
"What we've seen in the past 10 years is this remarkable transformation of the marketplace. There are products being sold today -- unregulated products -- that literally did not exist 10 years ago," said Mitchell Zeller, a public interest attorney who in the spring became the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.