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Let's ban all candy-flavored tobacco products | Jenice Armstrong

I've watched too many people whom I love suffer from the effects of smoking.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. holding packages of cigarillos packaged like candy.
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. holding packages of cigarillos packaged like candy.Read moreRAYMOND W. HOLMAN JR.

They are sold in brightly colored, shiny foil packaging with yummy-sounding Jolly Rancher-type flavors such as grape, mango, pineapple, peach, and white grape.

HI-FI, 4 K, and Game are some of the brands of miniature cigars, or cigarillos, packaged to look more like packs of Skittles than tobacco products. They're easy to find, inexpensive, and sold in low-income urban neighborhoods.

They're insidious.

I purchased some, strictly for research purposes, and as I drove back to the office I actually found myself thinking about opening a pack of black cherry cigarillos by Game and smoking one. I didn't. I'm not a smoker. I know better. I've watched too many people whom I love suffer from the effects of smoking. But what if I'd been an impressionable kid? I could have been setting myself up for a life of nicotine addiction.

That's why I've got to give a thumbs-up to Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. for trying to raise awareness about an issue that we don't talk about enough. He has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Oct. 27 in City Hall to review the impact of flavored-tobacco products on children.

"I literally got so mad," Jones recalled about a recent visit to a neighborhood bodega where flavored tobacco products are sold. "They had a poster [nearly] the size of me that's taller and wider that was selling Hood Wraps."

Whoa, I had to stop him right there, because I'd never heard of such a thing.

What's a Hood Wrap? I asked.  

"A Hood Wrap is a candy-flavored wrapper to wrap tobacco in, and/or marijuana," Jones told me. "And if I were a 4-year-old, I wouldn't have known the difference between a Hood Wrap and a hood snack, and that's very disturbing psychologically to me."

When I stopped by his office Wednesday, he had a variety of brands, in flavors including watermelon, fruit punch, and cool mint. These typically are sold in packages of two to five for just 99 cents.

"I think they're cheaper than candy," Jones said.

Anti-smoking advocates have been complaining about these "starter smokes" for years, arguing that the candy flavorings mask the harshness of tobacco smoke and make the cigarillos easier to tolerate.

"They really are deliberately designed to hook teenagers on smoking," Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city's public health commissioner, told me.

In 2009, a federal law was passed to ban cigarette makers from selling chocolate, vanilla, clove, or any other kind of flavored cigarettes besides menthol, but it stopped short of doing the same for cigar products.

Meanwhile, fewer young people smoke cigarettes these days, but more are opting for flavored cigars and cigarillos, according to Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking nonprofit.

Yes, I know Philly's got major issues, and this isn't exactly front and center.

But flavored cigarillos and cigars have no place in our communities and should be banned, just as similarly flavored cigarettes already are.

This month's hearing is a good first step.