04/07/2016

A 2011 Boston regulation that set minimum pricing and packaging requirements has successfully reduced the availability of fruit-flavored cigars that were becoming increasingly popular among youth, according to a new study published in Tobacco Control.

The Boston Board of Health’s 2011 regulation required all retailers to sell cigars in an original package of at least four cigars. Single cigars could only be sold for more than $2.50, almost twice the price prior to the regulation.

The study found a 34.4 percent decrease in the percentage of stores selling single, flavored cigars across all neighborhoods. It also found that all Boston tobacco retailers — more than 1,100 citywide — were compliant with the policy as of December 2014, 15 months after the policy had been implemented. A single violation of the policy could result in a fine of $200 and multiple violations could be result in suspension of the permit to sell cigars.

The study examined the availability and price of grape-flavored Dutch Masters single packaged cigars among tobacco retailers in Boston before and after the 2011 policy was enacted. The grape-flavored single packaged cigars were considered a market indicator, and are popular among youth. The study also compared the availability and price in 10 other Massachusetts urban municipalities that did not have similar regulations.

“Perhaps more importantly than the observed compliance is the decrease in availability across the neighborhoods in Boston. Boston is very diverse, and the decrease was seen regardless of the neighborhood’s socioeconomic or racial compositions,” said Wenjun Li, PhD, associate professor of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and lead author of the study.

Li’s study, funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program, concluded however that racial minorities continue to have the highest availability of single flavored cigars three years after the regulation.

Youth cigar use is currently higher and has increased faster than that of adults, particularly among African American youths, according to the study.

Compared to the 100 percent compliance of retailers in Boston, the average compliance for retailers in the 10 comparison cities was just 4.4 percent. The 10 comparison cities were Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lynn, Pittsfield, Somerville, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester.  

The  Tobacco Control study noted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already prohibited candy, fruit and other flavored cigarettes largely because there was significant evidence in the tobacco industry’s own documents that flavored cigarettes were intentionally and successfully created for and marketed to youth. Consistent with state and local authority to regulate tobacco products, some municipalities (e.g., New York City; Chicago, IL; Providence, RI; Sherborn, MA) have implemented a sales restriction on other flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigars.

In the past, state and federal policies effective at reducing teen use of cigarettes, such as minimum price laws, high excise taxes, minimum packaging requirements, and prohibitions on flavors, did not apply to cigars. As a result, single grape and other fruit-flavored cigars sold for as little as $1.25 in stores throughout Massachusetts. New tobacco users, especially youth, can avoid the harsh taste of burnt tobacco by experimenting with affordable, flavored cigars that are similar in size and feel to traditional cigarettes.

The results of this study are of great value to other municipalities that are formulating or implementing similar regulations to reduce youth access to tobacco products.