Oct. 10, 2009 -- Twenty-two-year-old college student Michael Bell is not the only young adult who began his smoking habit with clove cigarettes. And he knows why the Food and Drug Administration recently announced a ban on clove and other flavored cigarettes.
"Cloves are totally a gateway cigarette, that's what I used to smoke in high school," said Bell, who now smokes regular cigarettes. "My friends and I would buy a pack of cloves and sit around and all smoke a pack."
The sweet-smelling flavored cigarettes that leave a cooling sensation in your mouth have long been popular among teens and young adults, so the FDA's ban has left many teenagers troubled.
"My girlfriend absolutely loves cloves and she was so upset," said Bell, of Scottsdale Ariz., who attends Boston College. "I know one kid who even bought six packs [before the ban] just to have because he loves them so much."
Health care officials have long complained that flavored cigarettes lure young people into a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Two weeks ago, the FDA banned clove and all fruit-flavored cigarettes as part of a national effort to reduce teen smoking in the U.S.
"These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs, said when announcing the ban.
It was the first major FDA action against tobacco manufacturers since being granted the right to regulate cigarettes under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed by President Obama in June.
The ban affects not just flavored tobacco, but flavored filters and cigarette rolling papers that contain "…strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee,"according to a statement released by the FDA.
The rules will make it next to impossible for teens to obtain or even roll their own, flavored cigarettes.
Effects of Clove Cigarettes
Tobacco experts welcomed the ban, especially on cloves.
"In many respects, clove cigarettes are more dangerous," said Richard Hurt, a professor of medicine and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Unlike fruit-flavored cigarettes, cloves release a sweet aroma that contains eugenol, which is a topical anesthetic, scientists say. Many dentists use eugenol to numb part of a patient's mouth. When smoking a clove flavored cigarette, the eugenol makes the upper airways of a smoker's lungs numb, allowing the smoker to inhale very dense cigarette smoke into the deepest part of their lungs.
This is the characteristic that makes cloves appealing to new smokers. But, the anesthetic in cloves that allows for deep inhales is potentially more harmful as well.
"Most officials agree that when young people smoke cloves, they can get hooked faster because of the anesthetic, eugenol, in the cloves," Hurt said.
The only flavor additive left out of the ban is menthol, the most popular, leaving many tobacco experts questioning the extent of the ban.
"Getting rid of the flavor additives is a good thing; the only elephant in the room is menthol," said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine and director of the University of California San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
"It's pretty outrageous to leave menthol off the list," Glantz added. "Menthol is very important to the tobacco industry; evidenced by the fact that Phillip Morris recently introduced a new menthol Marlboro." The FDA, however, is reportedly looking into ways to expand the ban to include menthol.
Cigarette retailer lobbying groups say the ban is unfair. They claim that selling any kind of cigarettes to minors -- flavored or regular -- is already illegal in most states, making the outright ban of flavored cigarettes unreasonable.
"It is not our goal to attract underage youth to our stores," Mary Szarmach, a tobacco retailer and also the vice president of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, told an FDA listening session before the ban was announced. "Rather, our customer base consists of adults who enjoy buying and consuming tobacco products."
Kretek International Inc., the largest importer of clove cigarettes in the U.S., filed suit against the FDA. The company claims that the regulator is causing it to lose money.
As for Bell, the end of flavored cigarettes leaves him conflicted.
"Clearly, I have mixed feelings [on the ban]. Of course, I know smoking's bad, but I do it. I know the reason that they're banning it [flavored cigarettes] is to prevent more people from starting to smoke altogether. But at the same time, cloves are good, and I wish I could still buy them."