Friday, November 04, 2011

Hendry Group Fights Candy Cigars

Candy-Flavored Cigar Products Target Of Partnership

LABELLE, FL. -- Halloween just passed but what passes for candy out there is far scarier indeed. The Hendry Tobacco-Free Partnership isn’t out to ban chocolate bats or licorice fangs, rather candy-flavored tobacco products. 

Melissa Franco, president for the Clewiston High School Students Working Against Tobacco group calls them “starter products.” They’re the cherry, mocha, grape and watermelon “cigars”—the most prevalent likely the Swisher Sweets—and “they are alluring, deceptive ways the tobacco industry is targeting our youth,” Franco said. 

What troubles Franco most are data from the annual Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, a project of the Florida Health Department. In 2010, it showed one in six Florida youth between 11 and 17 has tried flavored tobacco. Among Hendry County youth, 25.4 percent have tried the flavored products that include blunt wraps, chew, dissolvable tobacco, cigarillos and cigars, according to the Health Department. 

34.4 percent of Glades County youth have tried flavored tobacco products, which is almost 10 percent higher than Hendry County. 

Based on the 2011 Student Social Norms data, Hendry County high school students reported that 17 percent smoked cigarettes within the past 30 days and 11 percent reported using smokeless (dip, chew, etc) during the past 30 days. 

It is difficult to find a store clerk who says they have sold any kind of tobacco to a minor, but kids are getting a hold of these products somehow. Store owners receive regular fliers from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging them to share information with their employees about not selling to minors. 

The laws about flavored tobacco changed in 2009, Valarie James of the Hendry County Health Department said. That’s when flavored cigarettes were banned. But the law did not take into account cigars or other tobacco vehicles. 

Groups such as SWAT are appealing to retailers to not sell any flavored tobacco, because it inevitably gets into some younger hands. “Older friends are able to buy them. And they may even pay them to do it,” said Socorro Ruiz, SWAT President atLaBelle High School. “I will do something to ban the sale of flavored tobacco in Hendry County.” 

Students and parents receive information to warn them about the new crop of tobacco products. While more than half of the parents at any event have never heard of flavored blunts wraps or Swisher Sweets, said James, it’s a good bet their kids have. 

Music videos such as “Pretty Girl Rock,” from the 2010 album by R&B/Hip-Hop singer Keri Hilson features female dancers who appear to be school-aged, singing “Pretty as a picture, sweeter than a Swisher, Mad’ cause I’m cuter than the girl that is with ya.” 

Grammy winner Lil Wayne had thrown his weight and street cred into a label of his own, bogey Blunts. Vanilla, grape and honey are among the flavors. And Hip-Hop artist Young Jeezy and fort Myers born Plies may be preaching to the choir of kids with lyrics like this: “I’m out my mind, just blew a thousand Swisher Sweets, in my black and orange charger, call it trick or treat.” 

SWAT students have collected over 500 signatures from local residents that support a ban on the sale of candy flavored tobacco products in Hendry County. SWAT youth and the Hendry Tobacco-Free Partnership will request the LaBelle City Council to pass a citywide Resolution banning the Sale of Candy Flavored Tobacco Products on November 10th. 

This resolution will fall in line with what’s taking place around the entire state and encourage our legislators to issue a statewide ban on the sale of these products.

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