Over the objections of retailers, St. Paul has approved an ordinance that targets the sale of inexpensive cigars that appeal to young smokers.
The ordinance, passed unanimously Wednesday by the City Council, sets a minimum price of $2.10 each for single cigars, whether sold individually or in packs up to four; for example, a three-pack would have to sell for at least $6.30.
Packs of five or more cigars would not be subject to price regulation.
Currently, cigars can be bought for far less — sometimes for as little as three for $1 and in flavors that make them particularly appealing to young people.
In June, Brooklyn Center became the first municipality in the state to pass such an ordinance. The city has seen a sharp decline in cigar sales since the ordinance took effect.
“This issue is about the underlying problem of the tobacco companies’ intentional marketing to youth and communities of color,” Council Member Dai Thao said during last week’s hearing on the ordinance, which he sponsored.
Jack McNaney, a freshman at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul and a member of the Ramsey Tobacco Coalition, said, “It’s not right that you can buy three cigarillos for less than the price of a bottle of Mountain Dew.”
Alicia Leizinger, a coalition program and policy specialist, said Thursday that “St. Paul has taken a strong stand against the tobacco industry’s relentless efforts to addict young people to their deadly products. By raising the price of cheap cigars, they took an important step in breaking the cycle of addiction for the next generation.”
A state Health Department survey revealed that cigars rival cigarettes in popularity among underage smokers.
Steve Rush, director of government relations for Holiday convenience stores, countered last week that the ordinance “will cause us to remove about 70 categories of cigar products” from its 10 stores in the city. “The loss of these sales can be quite serious,” Rush added.
Tom Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, added that the ordinance will punish retailers in St. Paul, where stores have a “virtually perfect compliance” record of not selling tobacco products to minors.
“Consumers who are of legal age to buy cigars will simply go elsewhere,” Rush said. “This is simply harming the honest, ethical St. Paul retailers who are enforcing the law.”
St. Paul retailers have about 30 days to change the prices on cigars covered by the ordinance.
In 2009, a unanimous City Council vote outlawed candy cigarettes and cartoon character lighters. The council cited a study showing that these products encouraged youngsters to take up smoking tobacco.