Insights on Cigar Use Among Youth, from Scientist Grace Kong, PhD
Dr. Kong, Assistant Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, spoke during our Addiction Speaker Series about growing use of cigars among youth, which are not strictly regulated like tobacco products are in the U.S. We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kong about her work.
What does research say about the demographics of cigar smokers and how and why it has changed over time?
The demographic of cigar smokers has definitely changed over time. Current users are viewed by peers to be “younger, hipper and cooler” and there are even a lot of celebrities who use them. Currently, the cigar use rates among youth is twice as adults in the U.S. (approximately 13 percent vs. five percent). Additionally, cigar use is disproportionately higher among racial minorities, with black adolescents twice as likely to report current cigar use than cigarettes.
You found that packaging and advertising of cigars and cigarillos (small cigars) has a big impact on youth initiation. Can you tell us about this?
Cigars and cigarillos are mostly sold in convenience stores. Research shows that packaging plays a key role in the marketing of these products. Bright colors, pictures, logos, brand-specific font types and sizes, and unique designs entice vulnerable populations, such as youth and women, to use the product. Cigar companies are constantly developing innovative packaging to increase the appeal of their products. Our interview with adolescents and young adults in Connecticut showed that the most popular features of cigar packaging were flavors, price promotions, branding and marketing claims.
What regulations are needed to help curb the uptake we are seeing in youth cigar and cigarillo use?
Our research found that flavors, packaging and the low cost of these products are appealing to youth. Eliminating appealing flavors, increasing the cost, and restricting appealing components of cigar packaging could decrease the appeal and uptake of cigar products among youth.
Do you think the cigar companies are aware that their products are being used to smoke marijuana, too?
Our work suggests that the majority of youth are using cigars to create blunts to smoke marijuana. In fact, some cigars have pre-made perforated lines on the wrapper to allow for easy cracking of cigars to create blunts, so it is hard to believe that cigar companies are unaware of the use of cigars to smoke marijuana.
What are the health consequences of marijuana and tobacco being used together – and is it potentially worse than the cigar itself?
Using marijuana and tobacco together is associated with a range of physical, psychological and behavioral consequences. Relative to using either substance alone, use of both marijuana and tobacco is associated with negative health outcomes like mental health problems, higher levels of dependency on either substance and more severe respiratory effects. Use of both substances can also have an effect on the structure and function of the brain that is responsible for reward circuitry, learning and memory.
Grace Kong, PhD
Dr. Kong is an Assistant Professor at Yale University School of Medicine