The Tobacco Industry Has a Kids Menu

October 13, 2021

There are a lot of conversations about flavored tobacco products – they’ve become one of the biggest health concerns in California. Below are four reasons why flavored tobacco products are so worrisome.

Flavors make it easier to start using tobacco and harder to stop.

Flavors are tempting because they taste good, and make tobacco smoke less harsh and easier to inhale. Menthol, for example with its cool, minty taste, covers up the harshness of tobacco and makes it easier to smoke.1

But menthol might actually make cigarettes more addictive.2 People who smoke menthol cigarettes are less likely to quit than other smokers.2 And now there are thousands of flavors for e-cigarettes and hookah – e-liquids and shisha come in many candy and fruit flavors like bubblegum, unicorn poop, cotton candy and apple.3

Flavored tobacco products are attractive to kids.

Four out of five teens who use tobacco start with flavored products4 which are tempting to young people because they come in colorful packaging that makes them appear harmless.5 Many young people think flavors make tobacco and smoking safer. Flavors and menthol may make smoking feel less harsh, but it does not make smoking any safer. Flavored tobacco is as dangerous and addicting as nonflavored tobacco.6

E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is harmful for kids.

The tobacco industry is working hard to paint nicotine as harmless, and not something that should concern parents. Besides making tobacco products addictive, nicotine is also a dangerous neurotoxin – it was once used as an insecticide.7 Nicotine is especially dangerous for youth – it can permanently damage the teen brain,8 interfering with cognitive development and impulse control.9  Or it can just make someone “nic sick,” (nicotine sickness or poisoning) which can include include nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate, extreme fatigue, dizziness, headache, hearing and vision changes.10

There are many different kinds of flavored tobacco products.

Below are examples and their risks.

  • Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) contain nicotine and chemicals known to cause cancer and produce a vapor that can harm the lungs. 11
  • Cigar and cigarillo smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as cigarette smoke, and may even be more toxic.12
  • Smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco, dip, snuff, snus and dissolvable products. It can be sniffed, chewed, or placed between the teeth and gums. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 chemicals that can cause cancer.13
  • Hookah pipes are used for smoking shisha, a flavored tobacco frequently mixed with molasses, honey, and fruit. Use of shisha is associated with lung, stomach and mouth cancer. Smoking shisha for 45 to 60 minutes produces as much smoke as smoking 100 cigarettes. 14
  • Menthol cigarettes can be more addicting and harder to quit than cigarettes without menthol.2Menthol masks the harsh taste of tobacco and makes cigarettes very appealing to beginner smokers.1

Here’s what parents can do to protect their kids:

  • Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking at an early age. Share with them if family members have died or are sick from tobacco use. Tell them about how flavors are used to make tobacco less harsh and make people want to try them. Flavors and menthol do not make tobacco safer.
  • Make your home smoke-free and don’t use tobacco in front of children.
  • Make your voice heard! Speak out about how flavors entice kids into wanting to use tobacco products and how menthol cigarettes are more addictive than non-flavored cigarettes. Write a letter to the newspaper, an opinion piece, a blog or use Facebook and other social media to tell others what you think.
  • Keep learning and teaching others about policies that make it harder to buy menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products.
  • Get help with quitting. Call 1-800-300-8086 for free quitting help for yourself, a family member or friend.

To learn more about flavored tobacco products, visit

References renameme

  1. Kreslake JM, Wayne GF, Alpert HR, Koh HK, Connolly GN. Tobacco industry control of menthol in cigarettes and targeting of adolescents and young adults. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(9):1685-92.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary scientific evaluation of the possible public health effects of menthol versus nonmenthol cigarettes. 2013. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  3. Hsu G, Sun JY, Zhu SH. Evolution of Electronic Cigarette Brands From 2013-2014 to 2016-2017: Analysis of Brand Websites. J Med Internet Res. 2018;20(3):e80. Published 2018 Mar 12. doi:10.2196/jmir.8550
  4. Ambrose BK, Day HR, Rostron B, et al. Flavored Tobacco Product Use Among US Youth Aged 12-17 Years, 2013-2014. JAMA, 2015;314(17):1871-1873.
  5. Truth Initiative. Bold and bright: How tobacco companies market flavored products to appeal to youth. Published February 22, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  6. California Medical Association. Flavored and Mentholated Tobacco Products: Enticing a New Generation of Users. Sacramento, CA: California Medical Association. 2016.
  7. “Tobacco and its evil cousin nicotine are good as a pesticide.” American Chemical Society Weekly Press Packet, October 27, 2010
  8. Yuan, Menglu, Cross, Sarah J., et al. Nicotine and the adolescent brain, J Physiol. 2015 Aug 15; 593(Pt 16): 3397-3412.
  9. Goriounova and Mansvelder, “Short- and Long-Term Consequences of Nicotine Exposure during Adolescence for Prefrontal Cortex Neuronal Network Function” Cold Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, December 2012.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). CDC - The Emergency Response Safety and Health Database: Systemic Agent: NICOTINE - NIOSH. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  11. Rubinstein ML, Delucchi K, Benowitz NL, Ramo DE. Adolescent Exposure to Toxic Volatile Organic Chemicals From E-Cigarettes. Pediatrics. 2018;141(4): e20173557. DOI:
  12. National Cancer Institute. Cigar Smoking and Cancer. Reviewed October 27, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  13. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Smokeless Tobacco and Some Tobacco-Specific N-Nitrosamines. Lyon, France: World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2007. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 89.
  14. World Health Organization Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation, Advisory note: waterpipe tobacco smoking: health effects, research needs and recommended actions by regulators–1st ed. 2005: World Health Organization.