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Minnesota Retailers Tighten Down on Teens and Tobacco

PHOTO: Little cigars have gained popularity with teens, as they come in flavors similar to ice cream and are sold at prices so low, they can buy several for less than a dollar. Photo credit: Tony Alter/Flickr.
PHOTO: Little cigars have gained popularity with teens, as they come in flavors similar to ice cream and are sold at prices so low, they can buy several for less than a dollar. Photo credit: Tony Alter/Flickr.
September 3, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota retailers do better at thwarting teens' attempts to buy tobacco than retailers in any other state, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The ranking is earning praise, although some anti-smoking advocates say the figures aren't really consistent with what's happening at the local level.

Only 1 percent of retailers in the state failed compliance checks in 2013, according to the report, but Jeannie Weigum, president of the Association for Nonsmokers - Minnesota, said that's misleading.

"It's a random sample, and they're asking for very specific products," she said. "One of our observations has been, when they change that up a bit, vendors tend not do quite so well. It's certainly a good thing that only 1 percent failed the test, however, we don't feel that fully reflects what's happening in the real world."

Nationally, the retailer violation rate for tobacco sales to teens is nearly 10 percent, up slightly from the year before.

Llittle cigars are among the tobacco products for which they've found retailer violation rates can jump to as high as 30 percent, Weigum said, adding that they often are infused with candy or fruit flavors.

"The issue with the little cigars is one that came as a bit of a surprise to us," she said. "We're seeing that young people are smoking little cigars at about the same rate as they're smoking cigarettes at this point - and we believe that's because of the price. You can buy three cigars for 88 cents."

She said young smokers compare 88 cents to the $7 to $8 general price range in Minnesota for one pack of cigarettes.

The full report is at samhsa.gov. More information on youth smoking is at ansrmn.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN