The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta recently alerted the world to what it identifies as a new problem: teens smoking cigars. In a well-orchestrated campaign, the CDC carefully prepared the media for the news; a pre-announcement announcement saying it was coming, an embargoed copy to certain news organizations and finally a widely disseminated news release. In it, the organization cited figures that suggest up to 26.7 percent of high school students have tried at least one cigar in the past 12 months.
But just what did the CDC tell us? First of all, there's no historical research on teenage cigar smoking. Buried in the report was the acknowledgment that the CDC didn't have anything with which to compare its results. Nor did the report make any serious attempt to quantify the results; if a kid answered that he had tried one cigar in the previous 12 months, that was enough to be considered a positive response. In other words, the age-old phenomenon of curious kids wanting to try something gets labeled as usage. The report also included 18 and 19 year olds, who in most states can smoke legally. Finally, the report did not attempt to verify whether the cigars were being used for something called "blunting," in which a machine-made cigar is emptied and refilled with marijuana.
The CDC knows how to push media hot buttons. Kids. Smoking. Cigars. I'm tempted to say, "So what?" but that might be construed as insensitive or inappropriate or politically incorrect. There's a simple truth that distorting the facts won't change: kids have been trying cigars since cigars were first made. They usually try just one, and that's it.
Why? Because cigars are not for kids. First of all, most kids hate the taste of a good cigar; the tobacco flavors are too strong. But more importantly, cigars have never been marketed to kids. They've never been as readily available as cigarettes. And, today, they cost a lot of money. That doesn't stop the anti-tobacco fanatics from lumping cigars together with cigarettes, smokeless and any other conceivable tobacco product, all of which are more dangerous when used as designed. In the ongoing crusade by anti-smoking zealots to vilify a legal product, they trot out the biggest bogeyman of all: "It's hurting our kids."
Using the "destruction of our kids" argument is just part of the puritanical crusade in America to eliminate all adult pleasures while eroding some of our country's most basic constitutional privileges. A similar argument, tailored to each topic, has been used for alcohol, sex, television, movies, the Internet, magazines and even free speech. The proponents call on government to intercede to protect the innocent.
Don't get me wrong. I'm against underage smoking. So is the cigar industry. Everything that I have seen in my five years of working with the top cigar companies and executives have proven to me that they do not market their product to kids. In addition, most premium handmade cigars are, or should be, stored in separate humidor rooms, away from other products and therefore much harder for kids to obtain. In other words, if there is an adult product on the market today, a cigar is it.
Let's deal with this issue in the most sensible way possible: through education and parental responsibility. Those are the only things that work in the long run. And let adults enjoy the things that they can make reasonable, informed decisions about. Everyone knows that cigar smoking has some risks, as do a number of other pleasures and pastimes. But for more than 90 percent of today's cigar smokers--who smoke one cigar a day or less and do not inhale-- it is an acceptable risk. That's what personal freedom is all about: being able to choose.
Marvin R. Shanken
Editor & Publisher