Cigar smoking among black high schoolers on the rise

An ashtray is filled with cigar butts. American teens are smoking cigarettes less these days. But the number of black high school students who smoke cigars has nearly doubled in recent years.

Kai Ryssdal: There are a couple of new reports out on tobacco use. Tobacco sales to minors hit an all-time low last year. Which is good.

The not so good report came from the CDC, which said the number of African-American kids smoking cigars is double what it was a couple of years ago. Researchers says they're not sure exactly why that is.

Dan Gorenstein reports from New Hampshire Public Radio their best guess is price.


Dan Gorenstein: Why are black kids puffing on all these little cigars?

Thomas Glynn at the American Cancer Society says corner store economics.

Thomas Glynn: Small cigars cost as little as 7 cents each. Meaning, $1.40 a pack compared to a pack of cigarettes in a place like New York City where you will spend $10, $11 or even $12.

The CDC says use among this population climbed between 2009 and 2011. Glynn says that's no coincidence.

Glynn: Federal excise tax went up a $1.01 in 2009, but it did not include cigars and pipe tobacco.

What's odd is that over the past two years, little cigar use hasn't gone up among Asians, Latinos or whites.

Snoop Dogg rapping

The rapper Snoop Dogg is shilling Executive Branch cigars, the musician's own company. At one point in the ad, Snoop rips a competitor's pack in half.

Danny McGoldrick with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says tobacco companies have a long history of marketing to African-Americans.

Danny McGoldrick: When you associate a product that most people know is not good for you, but when you associate it with very popular icons in the community, you change the affect around that product.

University of Michigan economist Kenneth Warner says tobacco manufacturers see little cigars as a way to grow their customer base -- substantially.

Kenneth Warner: Alternatives to cigarettes, could well be the direction that the industry is going to move unless regulators decide to treat products like small cigars like cigarettes.

Warner says big tobacco is holding its breath hoping that doesn't happen.

I'm Dan Gorenstein for Marketplace.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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