When I was 15, my friend Lindsey and I would sneak out of summer camp to smoke skinny, leaf-wrapped cigarettes called bidis. They came in exotic-looking, triangular packages decorated with pictures of whatever they were supposed to taste like -- vanilla beans, strawberries -- though they mostly just tasted like burning. We felt satisfyingly rebellious, even though I'm sure we just looked like a pair of dizzy dorks.
Still, I'm disappointed that, back in June, President Barack Obama robbed our nation's youth of this
method of extinguishing brain cells by signing the Family Smoking Prevention and
Tobacco Control Act, which, among other things, bans flavored cigarettes like cloves and bidis.
Jason Ballou, co-owner of Main Street Tobacco at 4307 Main, has been in the cig-selling business for 14 years. He says the ban will eliminate 50 of his store's cigarette varieties, and unless he tells them, most of his customers have no idea what's coming.
As of September 22, Ballou says, "Cloves of any kind become illegal.
Bidis will be, as well. And then the different flavored cigarettes, the
vanillas and cherries that are really popular, will all be illegal. Same with herbal cigarettes, which contain no tobacco at all, no
So did the local tobacco retailers protest? "Really there's nothing we can do," Ballou says. "Most cigarette manufacturers opposed
it, with the exception of Philip Morris, who supported the law. It's
going to eliminate a quarter of [Philip Morris'] competition, so they'll
definitely see increases in their sales."
Meanwhile, clove-lovers are stocking up. "We're getting people that come in and buy four, five, six cartons" of their favorite brands, Ballou says. "Just like when the cigarette tax happened, as
shortages get worse and worse, the manufacturers will increase the
price on the existing stock."
After September 22, customers can still possess the products, though they're illegal to sell. Ordering them from other countries or bringing them from overseas will be illegal, too.
On the upside, Ballou says, the ban doesn't affect cigars, and clove-flavored varieties are being made now. "Essentially, they're the size of 100-type cigarettes, with a filter,
but it's cigar tobacco instead of cigarette tobacco," Ballou says. "They're cheaper per cigar than the cigarettes were, because they are taxed at the cheaper cigar
rate. So it's actually become cheaper to smoke
Ballou notes the irony that the federal government hoped its flavored tobacco ban would protect kids, and yet the most popular cigarette flavor in the world -- menthol -- remains on the shelves.
Besides, he says, "Cigar and pipe tobacco has always been flavored and kids
certainly aren't swarming to try those." Maybe the release of the new Sherlock Holmes movie will change that?
More than likely, though, kids won't even
notice a ban on flavored cigarettes -- they're all too busy smoking pot.