Sen. Carla Nelson: Little cigars are a big problem in Minnesota

During cold and flu season, we coax our kids into taking medicine with enticing flavors such as grape, strawberry and orange. Unfortunately, this is the same tactic tobacco companies use to get our children addicted to their dangerous products, causing drastic health and public-policy consequences.

"Little cigars" are a type of cigarette that has expanded in the last few years because of new flavors such as peach, grape and chocolate. These new flavors are marketed to teens and young adults, and these products just as addictive and deadly as conventional cigarettes.

Kids aren't just attracted to the fruit flavors – they're attracted to the price, too. "Little cigars" are often available for less than $2 per pack, whereas cigarettes cost about $5.75 per pack.

They cost less because of a loophole in Minnesota law that doesn't require them to be taxed at the same rate as cigarettes, exempting them from current tobacco taxes and regulation.

That's why I have introduced legislation to close this loophole once and for all.


There's little difference between a cigarette and a "little cigar." Both are filtered, come in packs of 20 and are similar in size and weight. The only difference is that "little cigars" have tobacco in their rolling paper, causing it to turn brown. This small difference allows them to escape proper taxation and regulation. As a result, tobacco companies have taken advantage of the law and created a cheap, under-regulated tobacco product that puts our kids at risk and undermines the integrity of our laws.

A common-sense solution

My legislation would broaden Minnesota's legal definition of cigarettes to include little cigars. This would mean that little cigars would include Department of Revenue tax stamps to ensure tax compliance and reduce tax evasion, making them subject to the same taxes and fees as cigarettes and subject to the state's minimum price law.

Minnesota needs common-sense legislation like this to create tax uniformity and reduce abuse by the tobacco companies. I was pleased to testify on behalf of this bill this week in the Tax Reform Division, alongside my partner on the other side of the aisle, Sen. Kari Dziedzic, a DFLer from Minneapolis. The strong bipartisan support for this measure shows that protecting our kids is more important than party affiliation.

A battle we must win

After a decade of sharp declines in tobacco use among teens, progress is slowing. This year, 77,000 Minnesota kids will use tobacco, and 6,800 will become daily smokers. Research shows more than 25 percent of Minnesota high school students have tried flavored cigars, cigarillos or little cigars at some point in their lives.

As a former educator, the appeal that little cigars have on our youth concerns me. This legislation will help keep little cigars out of the hands of our kids and ensure compliance with state law. It's time to fix a problem that should have been fixed years ago.

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