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(Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday it had issued warning letters to four tobacco manufacturers for selling flavored cigarettes labeled as cigars.
The privately owned companies - Swisher International Inc, Cheyenne International LLC, Prime Time International Co and Southern Cross Tobacco Co Inc — are selling the products under brands such as "Swisher Sweets", "Cheyenne", "Prime Time" and "Criss-Cross" in youth-appealing flavors such as grape, wild cherry and strawberry, the FDA said.
About 90 percent of adult daily smokers smoked their first cigarette by the age of 18, the agency said.
"Flavored cigarettes appeal to kids and disguise the bad taste of tobacco, but they are just as addictive as regular tobacco products and have the same harmful health effects," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement. bit.ly/2hc2wkt
The Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law in 2009, banned cigarettes containing candy or fruit flavors, to reduce the likelihood of smoking and addiction to tobacco among youth.
The FDA said that while the products in question were labeled as cigars, they met the definition of cigarettes in the Act because they were likely to be offered to or bought as cigarettes based on their appearance, packaging and labeling.
The agency has asked the manufacturers to respond within 15 working days of receiving the letter.
Failure to obey federal tobacco law may result in civil money penalties, criminal prosecution, seizure, and/or injunctions.
Reporting by Natalie Grover and Akankshita Mukhopadhyay in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr