That’s a problem.
“You have the same cancer-causing chemicals but wrapped in flavors that don’t let you experience the harsh sensation of cigar or tobacco use,” said Donald Shell, interim director for Maryland’s Center for Health Promotion, Education, Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation.
Maryland is one of several states where the increase in youth cigar smoking has been large enough that it has caught up with and in some cases surpassed cigarette use in that age group, according to state and federal health data and anti-tobacco groups.
To fight back, the state will launch ads on billboards, buses and trains starting next week. The home page of the campaign Web site, thecigartrap.com, shows youngsters running to an ice cream truck with a giant cigar on its roof. “No matter how they sugarcoat it . . . cigars kill,” a warning reads.
Little cigars look like cigarettes but are wrapped in a brown paperlike substance that contains some tobacco leaf.
The Food and Drug Administration banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, but no such ban applies to cigars. Selling tobacco products to anyone younger than 18 is illegal, but not all stores check identification.
Some teens and young adults said the smaller cigars were appealing on several levels. Several said the most popular brand is Black & Mild, whose cigarillos come in wine and creme in addition to regular flavors.
Marcus Hunter, 18, said he started smoking cigarillos when he was 14 or 15. “I thought it would help me with stress, you know, from school and stuff,” said Hunter during a brief interview outside the Gallery Place Metro station in the District. Hunter, who attended Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, said he stopped smoking a year ago.
Nick Beirne, 20, said he started smoking cigarillos when he turned 18. “It’s a social thing,” said Beirne, who said he smokes them once or twice a week. A graduate of Yorktown High School in Arlington County, he said teens smoke them “because they think they’re less addictive, it looks better and it’s cheaper” than cigarettes.
A 21-year-old who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that when he was at Calvert High School in Prince Frederick, he and many of his friends thought “the whole cigar thing was way more big to smoke pot,” explaining how brands like Swisher Sweets and Black & Mild would be hollowed out and filled with marijuana.
Between 2000 and 2010, cigarette smoking decreased by nearly 40 percent among Maryland high school students, but cigar use jumped more than 11 percent, according to the Maryland Youth Tobacco Survey, a survey of high school students conducted every two years.