ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Two Republicans state senators on Thursday proposed that so-called “little cigars” should be taxed at the higher rate applied to cigarettes in Minnesota.

Little cigars along with normal-sized cigars are defined as “tobacco products” under state law and taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes. Various state taxes on cigarettes add up to almost two dollars a pack, and the Department of Revenue estimated that taxing little cigars like cigarettes would raise about $6 million in the 2012-13 budget cycle. Normal-sized cigars would not be affected.

That’s not much compared to the $5 billion state budget shortfall, but it’s a case of legislative Republicans actually backing an uptick in a state tax — rare so far in the current legislative session.

Anti-smoking forces point out that little cigars are the same size as cigarettes, are often sold in similar-size packs and are marketed to cigarette smokers. Some come in flavors like chocolate or grape and could appeal to children, supporters of the higher tax rate said.

“Smokers inhale them as deeply into their lungs as they do cigarettes,” said Molly Moilanen, spokeswoman for ClearWay Minnesota, a coalition of health groups. “They contain as much nicotine. They are just as addictive and just as dangerous as cigarettes.”

The bill sponsors are Republican senators Julie Rosen of Fairmont and Carla Nelson of Rochester. Rosen said it’s not for the tax money that would be raised but rather to discourage youths from using the product.

“This is a cute little wrap — pink,” said Rosen, holding up a pack of little cigars at a Senate Taxes Committee hearing on her bill. “This is Camel. And this is a little Swisher Sweet in purple. So who are they really marketing these little cigars to? This is the reason I took this bill, and it’s not for the tax revenue that it would generate. It’s because I wanted to address this with the kids.”

Representatives of tobacco manufacturers and wholesalers said federal studies have shown that only 1 to 2 percent of youth smokers are using little cigars. In addition, they complained that taxing them like cigarettes would create a logistical nightmare for tobacco wholesalers who are required to affix a state tax stamp to all cigarette packs.

Tom Bryant, executive director of the Minnesota Wholesale Marketers Association, said the machines currently used to affix the stamps only work with cigarette packs. He said many little cigars come in packs of different sizes, and that the stamps would have to be attached by hand. Some little cigar packs are too small for the stamps to fit at all, he said.

Right now, 12 states and the District of Columbia tax little cigars like cigarettes. Bryant said he has clients in one of those states, Iowa, that have stopped selling over half the brands of little cigars because of the cost and burden of affixing tax stamps.

“This is in effect a de facto prohibition on the sale of these legal tobacco products,” Bryant said.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said she doesn’t think the Legislature should adopt the higher rate if the main intent is to discourage smoking.

“I don’t agree with sin taxes,” Hoffman said. “We live in a free country and we have personal choice and with those choices come consequences.”

But Sen. Julianne Ortman, chairwoman of the Senate Taxes Committee, signaled she might support the change — not necessarily to discourage smoking, but in the name of taxing similar products at the same levels. Ortman said she might include the proposal in a larger package of changes to state tax policy.

“My goal is consistency in the tax policies in the state of Minnesota,” Ortman said. “For me, this bill is of significant importance because it seems inconsistent in our tax policies.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (22)
  1. JB says:

    I thinks it’s the money like everything else the government gets into

  2. Helper says:

    I’m sure all those ghetto republican pot smokers are like… Oh No! Not my Blunts!!!

  3. Ted C says:

    I despise any so-called, “activist”. They NEVER have any good cause, only hatred for who they are against. Can some one tell me just exactly how little cigars are “targeted” towards children. As it is, tobacco advertising is all but non-existent anyway. This is just another ploy to vilify people who smoke.

    1. john0990 says:

      People who smoke should be villified.

  4. Victim Du Jour says:

    As long as the government goes above and beyond basic infrastructure, fire, police and punishing murderers, violent criminals, theft and drug dealing. They’ll have to find money somewhere.

    Blunt wraps are popular.

    1. Walker says:

      Another ignorant comment by victim. Blunts may be small cigars that is not what is aimed at in this bill. There are little cigars that come 20 in a pack that look a lot like cigarettes but labeled as cigars

  5. Renee says:

    They don’t like the smoker but they sure like the tax dollars smokers bring in. it’s all about the money.

  6. merks says:

    when it comes to taxes it’s always about the money and how they can misspend it more.

  7. Cheryl says:

    How about taxing alcohol? There would be no problems if you did that! But, of course, they won’t tax alcohol because they want those votes. Insane!

  8. Jake says:

    I think they need to do the same with Barbie Dolls. They are clearly marketed to kids, and let’s face it, they are downright toxic if you smoke them. It’s about fairness.

  9. MNBrant says:

    trust the republicans to go after the poor yet again. You know the only people who smoke those are the poor who likely only have one dollar to buy that pack of flavored cigar. Personally I like the rich tax Dayton and the Dems are proposing. I mean whats worth for your health? A poor person smoking a cigar for a buck because he can’t afford better or a rich pig wrecking the worlds resources on a paperclip made from the hair of 1000 baby seals? I rest my case.

  10. Clints unhappy says:

    Go GOP —- hyprocites at work my mamma always said.
    Friggen hypocrites

  11. Victim Du Jour says:

    Welfare people who smoke blunts get their money back anyway when they get their food stamp money.

    1. Walker says:

      Ignorant and hateful. Is your victimness is that you have no joy in life other than making ignorant statements?

  12. Gov Google Eyes says:

    Great idea! Then we should tax toilet paper in public bathrooms….say .25 a square…then tax those swizzle sticks in bars….. $1 a swizzle….then shopping carts at all grocery stores….will need to be registered and a plate put on them…..then rental strollers at malls will be licensed…..then every time you fluch your toilet at home there be a “feeding the politicians” fee to route your waste to the plates of all politicians…..then any child playing outside of their home will need to be licensed and a plate welded to their to foreheads…..then there will be a tax on pets who deficate….every time dogs and cats poop….$1 goes to the Senate…..

  13. Goob says:

    Do we actually pay these idiots to sit there, thinking of things to tax?? Children would qualify for jobs like that. Whatta joke..

  14. Chris K says:

    Republicans propose a new tax!

    1. Wesly says:

      They learned last time they could not call it a user fee. Ata statewide level they say no tax increases but increase fees and tabs as well as local taxes like crazy.

  15. mark from says:

    These clowns make my job so easy! Another tax on the middle class!

  16. jon says:

    When is a cigar just a cigar?

  17. Bill says:

    The best discussed subject I ever knew ))
    By the way, I got free of cigarettes taxes on
    But already the cigarettes ban problem occurred, so you never know what to expect from cigarettes , that’s why it is the best discussed subject 🙂

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