By Tom Precious
ALBANY – As health groups fight to get funding restored to reducing smoking rates in New York, a national tobacco watchdog group reported this morning that cigar smoking among teenagers has exploded over the past decade.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said high school students are now twice as likely – 13.1 percent to 6.6 percent – to report they have smoked cigars in the past month as adults. Among people between 18 and 24 years old, the rate stood at 15.9 percent.
The increase comes, the Washington-based group said, as a result of marketing campaigns by cigar companies offering cheap and sweet cigars that have been major lures for teens. The group faulted a loophole in which the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate cigars and so the industry, unlike cigarette makers, is permitted to bypass a 2009 law banning candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes.
While smoking rates have seen overall declines in the past decade, the group said cigar sales have doubled in the past 10 years.
The report's timing is certain to be used by tobacco critics in the budget battles underway at the Capitol. In New York, a coalition of health groups are pushing back to a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reduce funding for a range of public health programs, including tobacco cessation efforts. The resolution will likely be known next week if the state budget, as officials hope, is passed by the end of the week.