Mar. 23 -- FRIDAY, June 22 (HealthDay News) -- Childhood puffs on candy cigarettes may lead to adult smoking habits, a new study warns.
"More adult smokers said they had used candy cigarettes" compared to nonsmokers, said lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Klein, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester. "The risk of becoming a smoker is associated with using candy cigarettes."
The slim, pink-tipped sweets made of candy or gum are typically sold in boxes resembling cigarette packs. In the United States, candy cigarettes are available in supermarkets and convenience stores, according to the report in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
Klein's team wondered if kids who pretended to smoke using the treats were any more prone to smoking as adults. To find out, his group surveyed almost 26,000 adults regarding their smoking habits and whether or not they had played with candy cigarettes as children.
They found that 12 percent of the people who said they had never eaten a candy cigarette as a kid were current or former smokers today.
In contrast, 22 percent of those who said they had eaten candy cigarettes either smoked often today or were former smokers. Just 14 percent said they had never smoked. In addition, the more often a child had consumed candy cigarettes, the more likely he or she was to become a smoker, Klein said.
He believes the availability of candy cigarettes dovetails closely with tobacco industry pressures on youngsters.
"It allows the marketing that goes into tobacco advertising to operate on children long before they have access to cigarettes," Klein said. "These candy products promote smoking as a socially acceptable activity," he added.
Parents need to be aware that playing with candy cigarettes can have an effect on their children's future smoking, Klein said. In other studies, his team has found that playing with candy cigarettes increased the likelihood of becoming a smoker fourfold.
One expert agreed that candy cigarettes are more than harmless make-believe.
"It strikes me as insane that we would manufacture candy that would teach kids how to use a product that will kill half of them," said Danny McGoldrick, research director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "It is completely irresponsible to be selling products that teach kids how to use what is ultimately a deadly product."
McGoldrick sees the sweets as the first step along a path that leads to smoking for real.
"With tobacco companies introducing flavored cigarette products, it looks like the first step in a progression from learning and thinking that it's cool to smoke cigarettes to moving up to the real thing and being addicted for a lifetime," McGoldrick said.
Parents shouldn't let children have these products, McGoldrick said. "And retailers shouldn't be selling these things," he added.
For more information on children and smoking, visit the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
SOURCES: Jonathan Klein, M.D., associate professor, pediatrics, University of Rochester, N.Y.; Danny McGoldrick, research director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; July 2007, Preventive Medicine