March 20 (UPI) -- The Food and Drug Administration is taking the first step toward possibly limiting fruit flavoring and menthol in tobacco products in an effort to reduce the appeal for children.
On Tuesday, the agency issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, called ANPRM. In receiving data and research, they want "to consider the most impactful regulatory options the FDA could pursue to address this issue" in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, little cigars and snus.
Last Thursday, the FDA also took the first steps to lowering nicotine in cigarettes. The FDA can't ban tobacco products but can limit sales and content.
"For years we have recognized that flavors in these products appeal to kids and promote youth initiation. The data backs this up, and as a result, Congress prohibited the use of most characterizing flavors in cigarettes," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, said in a statement. "Each day in the United States, more than 2,300 youth under the age of 18 years smoke their first cigarette, and nearly 1,900 youth smoke their first cigar."
He noted that youth consistently report product flavoring as a leading reason for using tobacco products.
"Flavors may disguise the taste of tobacco. But flavored cigarettes and little cigars are every bit as addictive as any other tobacco products, have the same harmful health effects and may even make it harder to quit," Gottlieb said. "In fact, there's evidence indicating that youth tobacco users who reported their first tobacco product was flavored had a higher prevalence of current tobacco product use compared to youth whose first product was not flavored. "
He noted that among youth who have ever tried a cigar, more than 65 percent have reported that their first cigar was flavored. And youth and young adult smokers are disproportionately more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes.
"Because almost 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking by the age of 18, it's imperative we look at new ways we can ensure that kids don't progress from experimentation to regular use," he said.
About 22 percent of teenagers thought e-cigarettes were harmful in a survey of 20,000 middle school and high school students released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For 90 days, people can comment on the proposed rule on tobacco flavoring before the agency takes any action.
"In the spirit of our commitment to preventing kids from using tobacco, we are taking a closer look at flavors in tobacco products to better understand their level of impact on youth initiation," Gottlieb said. "And as a public health agency, it's important that we also explore how flavors, under a properly regulated framework that protects youth, may also be helping some currently addicted adult cigarette smokers switch to certain non-combustible forms of tobacco products."