Current Issue

 A real character

Around the world, regulators have been working to restrict the use of tobacco flavorings in the hope that doing so will make cigarettes less appealing. Tobacco companies use flavorings for various purposes. Some ingredients help create a consistent product by compensating for naturally occurring variations between crops harvested in different seasons and origins; others are used to add to the cigarette an entirely new taste.

Regulators’ greatest concern is reserved for “characterizing” flavorings—constituents that impart a clearly noticeable smell or taste other than one of tobacco. They fear that such flavorings could attract new consumers, especially young ones. The scent of strawberry, candy or mango might just prove irresistible to people who would otherwise have no interest in smoking.

It is tempting to dismiss the discussion as academic. Apart from mentholated cigarettes—which are often treated as a separate category—there are few “truly” flavored cigarettes on the market. Most smokers simply aren’t interested in nontobacco tastes. And it’s hard to imagine a rebellious teenager trying to impress his peers with a whiff of lollipop.

Nonetheless, regulators insist characterizing flavors represent a threat to the public health, and they are determined to snuff them out. But here comes the bizarre part: To determine whether a cigarette contains characterizing flavors, some are calling for the creation of specialist panels. Aided by sophisticated chemical analyses, experts are to identify ingredients that impart a scent and/or flavor distinctly different from that of tobacco.

That defies logic. If characterizing flavors are the concern that critics make them out to be, any person should be able to perceive them. Conversely, if characterizing flavors require specialized training and equipment to be detected, how can they increase the appeal of smoking to ordinary consumers? Puzzled by this conundrum, George Gay examined the issue of characterizing and noncharacterizing in depth.

The gentleman on our cover, Hector Luis Prieto, had no time for expert panels, either. He was busy educating a group of cigar enthusiasts—including Tobacco Reporter’s Tim Donahue—who had descended on his farm during the recent Habano Festival.

Rather than pondering regulatory semantics, Prieto spoke about the skills, knowledge and dedication that went into growing Cuban tobacco. Regardless of their positions in the tobacco flavorings debate, his listeners agreed that farmers, such as Prieto, are a key ingredient in the success of the island’s most characteristic export.

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