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Ryan calls for ban on flavored tobacco

Anti-smoking advocates lauded federal lawmakers in 2009 for banning the sale of flavored cigarettes they said appeal to young would-be smokers.

But tobacco companies have found other ways to reach young people, Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan said Sunday as he urged passage of a state bill that would ban other flavored products, including small cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff.

"These are gateway products," Ryan said. "Without this, you're not going to have a young adult smoke cigarettes. Because we all know cigarettes taste awful -- you're not going to become addicted without these flavors."

The products, Ryan said, are flavored to taste like fruit, chocolate, vanilla, herbs and spices. While the federal legislation banned the sale of flavored cigarettes, the flavored small cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff can still be sold.

A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, would close what Ryan sees as a loophole in the federal law and enact an outright state ban on flavored tobacco products. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly in January but has lingered in the Senate.

Ryan, who will appear today at Roswell Park Cancer Institute with representatives from the American Cancer Society and the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, has been calling for Senate passage of the bill.

"At the same time we're working in government to try to help people quit smoking, there are these products being marketed to help people start smoking," Ryan said. "The state should do everything in its power to lessen the number of people starting to smoke."

Tobacco companies have said the appeal of flavored tobacco to young people is unintended, but Ryan said the products are clearly marketed to young crowds.

"The tobacco companies are clever," he said. "It's clear that some of the flavors really are aimed at a younger audience. I've never seen an adult smoking a chocolate mini-cigar."

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.

The federal legislation banning flavored cigarettes followed a 2006 agreement in which the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company agreed to a national ban on its line of flavored cigarettes, which included "Twista Lime" and "Mocha Taboo." Other flavors included "Winter Warm Toffee" and "Kauai Kolada."

In addition, the flavoring of menthol cigarettes has led to an increase in smokers and has made it harder for smokers to quit, according to a 2011 study by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel. The federal legislation also gave the FDA authority to regulate ingredients in cigarettes.

For Ryan, D-Buffalo, the issue is personal. While his mother quit smoking, his father-in-law is still dealing with the ravages of the nicotine addiction he gave up years ago.

"My grandfather and grandmother both had their lives cut short by smoking," Ryan said. "I'm one of the few people in my family who don't smoke. But you can see the awful power of addiction."