More like cigarettes

Our view: Banning city sales of single little cigars is only a start

June 01, 2008

Mayor Sheila Dixon's proposal to ban the sale of individual "little cigars" would probably discourage some Baltimore youngsters from buying them, but it's only the tiniest step in the right direction. The problem is more fundamental: They aren't really cigars at all, but an increasingly popular way to skirt cigarette taxes and distribute flavored tobacco cheaply, especially to young African-Americans.

Unlike genuine cigars that are rolled tobacco leaf, little cigars are more like oversized cigarettes in dark brown paper. They are usually inhaled rather than puffed and come in flavors such as chocolate, raspberry and cinnamon.

Because they are classified as cigars, they aren't as heavily taxed as cigarettes, don't carry as many health warnings and can be sold individually. As a result, they can be purchased for as little as 69 cents compared with a $5 pack of cigarettes.

The General Assembly last year raised the tax on cigarettes to $2 per pack (and part of the justification was to make them less attractive to children by increasing their price) but failed to address little cigars, which are taxed at about one-sixth the rate of cigarettes. .

The U.S. Treasury was petitioned two years ago by 40 state attorneys general to redefine little cigars as cigarettes, but so far no action has been taken.

Shame on all of them.

Baltimore can ban the sale of individual little cigars, but it's foolish to assume that will solve the problem. Their too-low price is the real culprit, and a product that may look a bit like a cigar but is actually made (and is smoked) like a cigarette ought to be treated by government as the same.

That would not only discourage underage smoking but essentially close a tax and regulatory loophole that harms people of all ages.

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