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Thursday, July 29, 2010

New state law aims at keeping tobacco beyond kids’ reach

From the Star Tribune at

Tobacco -- whether smoked, chewed or otherwise ingested -- must be behind Minnesota store counters by Sunday.
By JEREMY OLSON, Star Tribune
Last update: July 29, 2010 - 12:17 AM

The next generation of tobacco products -- from battery-powered e-cigarettes to strawberry-scented little cigars -- will be harder for young Minnesotans to buy starting Sunday.

A new state law is requiring convenience stores and other retailers to keep tobacco products behind the counter, rather than in appealing displays within easy reach of young customers. It also broadens the definition of tobacco products -- which can't be sold to minors -- to include items that can be "chewed, smoked, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed or ingested by any other means.''

The law is designed to keep Minnesota abreast of the next generation of tobacco and related products that are priced low and marketed to teens, said Kerri Gordon, a spokeswoman for ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit quit-smoking organization.

"It's not your grandfather's cigarettes anymore," Gordon said. "Today's tobacco industry is moving heavily into smokeless and spitless products. We're seeing almost edible tobacco."
Examples include Camel Orbs, which are dissolvable nicotine tablets that come in flavors such as "fresh" and in shapes and containers that resemble Tic-Tacs.

"I think they do target a younger audience" with the alternative products, said Calitta Jones, an 18-year-old from St. Paul whose youth group successfully lobbied for a ban on candy cigarettes there. "Most [older] smokers already have their brand. They already know what they like. They don't try too much new stuff."

The share of high school students who smoke has declined from more than 36 percent in 1997 to less than 20 percent last year, according to federal student survey data. But the share of teens who use smokeless tobacco has held steady, around 9 percent, over the same period.

Minnesota, likewise, shows a decline in teen smoking over the past decade through its own student survey. But the state didn't ask about smokeless tobacco use until 2007. The next state survey update comes later this year.

The new law also puts Minnesota ahead of other states in its regulation of products such as e-cigarettes, which heat up cartridges of nicotine or lobelia for smokers without producing smoke.
ClearWay, funded by a state lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies, has taken more interest in these alternative products, and released a report, "Unfiltered," in February detailing the new marketing of tobacco to youth through video game placement, flashy packaging and other methods.

In a commentary in the May issue of Pediatrics, two U.S. Food and Drug Administration doctors said the flood of new products "seems to be reflected in the evolving patterns of tobacco use by youth." The smokeless products also get around indoor smoking bans.

However, some tobacco opponents view the new products as "gateways" that eventually encourage young people to turn to cigarettes.

A study released Wednesday by the University of California, Riverside, for example, found that smokers needed more suction to inhale e-cigarettes and that they might eventually turn to "compensatory" smoking of other products.

Gordon said the revised Minnesota law limits teen access to tobacco products but doesn't change the most important influence on youth smoking: price.

ClearWay had initially proposed redefining little cigars as cigarettes. That would have increased the tax on those cigars, which might have deterred cost-sensitive teens and young adults from buying them. The proposal was dropped, Gordon said, over concerns from some lawmakers that it represented a new tax on business.

Most convenience stores already place all tobacco products behind their counters to deter underage smokers and theft, said Lance Klatt of the Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association, which supported the legislation.

"The [store operators] out there, they don't like promoting tobacco near the candy area," he said. "We want to protect our youth as well."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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