U.S. FDA, in first tobacco action, bans flavors
* Ban affects flavored cigarettes
* FDA weighing menthol, other flavored tobacco products
* Advocates say ban will curb youth smoking
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took its first steps to rein in the tobacco industry on Tuesday, implementing a ban on candy, clove and other flavored cigarettes.
The move, required by a law passed earlier this year giving the FDA greater power over tobacco products, aims to help prevent children and teenagers from smoking.
"Candy and fruit flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular tobacco users," Dr. Lawrence Deyton, head of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told reporters in a conference call.
In June, President Barack Obama signed legislation allowing the FDA to oversee the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products, including regulating ingredients and limiting advertising. The agency must also approve any new tobacco products.
Still, the bill excludes any immediate action on menthol, or mint, flavored cigarettes that are used by as many as 12 million Americans, including most African-American smokers. Lawmakers instead called on the FDA to study the issue.
It is not immediately clear how effective the ban will be or what impact it will have on smoking habits.
"Although it will take time for it to have a 100 percent effect ... it will have a dramatic effect on children and young women who are most likely to smoke these products," said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families.
Children who already smoke may switch to regular cigarettes, but many will be reluctant try smoking if products don't taste good, she said. "I think it does make it harder for companies to try to get away with anything," she added.
The ban in unlikely to affect U.S. tobacco companies such as Altria Group Inc's (MO.N) Philip Morris unit and Lorillard Inc's (LO.N) Lorillard Tobacco Co, which do not make flavored cigarettes.
But some advocates have already expressed concern that smaller companies will simply shift their attention to cigars, snuff and other tobacco products not covered by Tuesday's ban.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which supported the FDA's new oversight, said the nation's top distributor of clove-flavored cigarettes, California-based Kretek International Inc., now sells clove cigars that look and taste like its clove cigarettes.
Representatives for Kretek, which imports most of its products, could not be immediately reached. Star Scientific (STSI.O) and other companies also make dissolvable smokeless tobacco products in various flavors.
FDA's Deyton said the agency would discuss other flavored products.
The FDA posted information about the ban on its website here (Editing by Steve Orlofsky)