States See Dollars in Small Cigars

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States See Dollars in Small Cigars

NEW YORK -- The popularity of small cigars -- which are part of the other tobacco products (OTP) segment and often available in fruit and candy flavors -- have caught on with state lawmakers, who are attempting to regulate and tax the products similarly to cigarettes, USA Today reported.

For example, as of October, Baltimore will require single cigars retailing for less than $2.50 each to be sold in packs of five. And in 2008, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all passed bills to tax small cigars at the same rate as cigarettes, according to the report.

Small cigars, while usually the size of cigarettes, are made with a different type of wrapper, which is brown and contains tobacco.

"States are beginning to close what has become a very serious loophole," Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a private group, told USA Today. Most states tax these cigars at a much lower rate than cigarettes.

However, as cash-strapped states look for a way to close budget shortfalls, they are likely to raise taxes because "it's an easy way to raise revenue," said Thomas Carr of the American Lung Association.

However, lawmakers in Rhode Island and Maryland failed to pass a proposal last year that called for bans on the sale of cheap single cigars. Maryland's bill required cigars with a wholesale price of less than $2 be sold in packs of five, the report stated.

"The more expensive, the less chance it will get in the hands of youth," Delegate Shawn Tarrant, Democratic author of the Maryland proposal, told USA Today.

The same reasoning holds true in Baltimore. "We're trying to make it equivalent to cigarettes," Josh Shartstein, city health commissioner, told USA Today.

However, the tobacco industry is fighting the trend.

"It really doesn't make sense," David Sutton, spokesman for Altria, told USA Today. In 2007, Altria bought John Middleton Co., which makes the larger Black & Mild brand of cigars, but not small cigars. He added many adults buy single cigars, including large ones costing less than $2, and smoke infrequently. "I might buy three or four cigars, stick them in the humidor and not smoke them until May," he said.

Sutton added adult users should not be penalized, and the best way to combat teen use of cigars is to enforce laws barring the sale of tobacco products to minors.