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State Attorneys General Expose Tobacco Industry’s Dirty Little Secret: Selling Cigarettes Masquerading as “Little Cigars”

Statement by American Heart Association, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 18, 2006

Washington, DC — Forty state attorneys general today took an important step to protect America’s kids from tobacco by petitioning the U.S. Department of the Treasury to close a loophole that lets tobacco manufacturers classify certain cigarettes as “little cigars,” which allows them to evade higher cigarette taxes intended to prevent kids from smoking and to market in other ways that appeal to children.

Many of these “little cigars” are blatantly aimed at our children. They are cheaper and more affordable to kids than regular cigarettes because they have lower excise tax rates and they are often sold individually rather than in packs because their classification exempts them from state laws setting minimum pack sizes for cigarettes. Most insidiously, they often have candy and fruit flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, cherry and cinnamon. The tobacco companies have a long history of using sweet flavors to attract new users, almost all of whom are children.

The attorneys general have petitioned Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to close a loophole that currently allows tobacco companies to determine how their products are classified. This has resulted in products that are actually cigarettes being marketed, taxed and sold as “little cigars” simply because of their brown wrapping (cigars must be wrapped in leaf tobacco and meet other content requirements). According to the attorneys general, there has been a proliferation of these “little cigars” in recent years, and consumption of “little cigars” increased by 270 percent from 1995 to 2005, even while cigarette sales declined. We urge the TTB to act quickly on this petition and close this loophole that facilitates the marketing of tobacco products to our children. In addition to protecting our children, this change will prevent tax evasion and recover cigarette tax revenues.

The proliferation of these “little cigars” and other recent tobacco industry actions, such as the moves by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to test-market new, smokeless tobacco products, also underscore the fact that tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect public health and safety. The tobacco companies will be free to continue their harmful actions until Congress approves pending legislation (S. 666 and H.R. 1376) to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective regulatory authority over all tobacco products and marketing. Among other things, this legislation would grant the FDA the authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, ban candy and fruit flavorings in cigarettes, require changes in tobacco products to make them less harmful and less addictive, and stop tobacco companies from making unsubstantiated claims that some tobacco products may be safer than others.