The smoke screen around young people hasn't yet cleared, despite the federal law in 2009 banning the sale of flavored cigarettes. That's why state lawmakers should support a bill that would ban other flavored tobacco products, including small cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, has thrown his support behind the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale. The legislation would close what Ryan accurately describes as a loophole in the federal law, and impose an outright state ban on flavored tobacco products.
The Assembly did the right thing in passing the bill overwhelmingly in January. The Senate must get on board.
The tobacco industry may take exception to accusations that it is targeting young people with flavored products. But, as Ryan said, "These are gateway products."
How many adults have been spotted with flavored snuff or flavored small cigars? The products are flavored to taste like fruit, chocolate, vanilla, herbs and spices, according to Ryan. The tobacco companies recognize the need to mask the unpleasant taste for new smokers until the nicotine works its addictive magic.
A 2005 survey by Roswell Park found that 20 percent of smokers ages 17 to 19 said they used flavored cigarettes, compared with 6 percent of smokers older than 25.
It was something of a breakthrough when Congress voted to ban flavored cigarettes. That law followed a 2006 agreement in which the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company agreed to stop selling its flavored cigarettes. The move represented an acknowledgment that tobacco addiction often starts at a young age, and its grip can last a lifetime, however shortened due to the addiction.
On another anti-smoking front, the state has designated more outdoor locations at state parks and historical sites -- including picnic spots and areas around playgrounds and pools -- as tobacco-free zones. Smokers will still be able to light up at some spots, but those enjoying the fresh air outdoors will be subjected to less secondhand smoke.
Extending the ban on flavored tobacco will not make smoking illegal; those who want to smoke will still find an easy enough route down that road. It will just make those first few puffs a little less pleasant.
Anyone who has watched close family members deal with the harmful effects of smoking, as Ryan has, understands the importance of preventing young people from starting.
Federal lawmakers understood the smoking-is-fun message that candy-flavored cigarettes sent to young people. President Obama, a longtime smoker, signed the bill.
Now it's time for state lawmakers to correct the shortcoming in the federal bill and ban the other flavored tobacco products designed to lure the young into the smoking habit.