When is the last time someone could walk into a convenience store and buy a single cigarette? Not a pack of cigarettes, just one. It's been a while, right?
That's because selling them is illegal. Sales of single cigarettes (also known as "loose cigarettes" and "loosies") have been outlawed in Massachusetts for many years.
Yet, for some reason, these laws do not apply to cheap cigars. They go by many names including cigarillos, blunts and pipe cigars. How inexpensive? Most sell for about a buck. If you're really a bargain hunter, you can find a cheap cigarillo for just 69¬¢.
Wow, what a bargain! Almost like days gone by. But wait a minute. Do we really want to go back to those days? Back to an era when a few pennies could fetch you some smokes? To a time when smoking was promoted as good for you? A time when teens readily had access to tobacco?
The unabashed marketing of cheap cigars in brightly colored packaging is a vestige of the sullied past of the tobacco industry. And guess what, the promotional effort is working. Youth smoking of cigars is on the rise.
There is a simple way to prevent ridiculously cheap pricing of cigars: require several cigars to be packaged together, rather than selling them individually. This boosts the price. Again, this is not a new idea, as it has been the law for cigarette sales for many years.
Multiple-unit packaging is rightly accepted for cigarettes, which come 20 to a pack. This makes sense because the idea of selling individual cigarettes smacks of catering to youth who often are short on cash. Fortunately, bundling cigarettes at a price tag of about $8 a pack makes it more difficult for a teenager to buy them. Cheap cigars, with their links to death and disease, deserve the same kind of pricing barriers for youth.
Raising cigar prices through bundled packages will likely reduce youth smoking. Higher prices correlate with reduced tobacco use by youth. In fact, it is well accepted that every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices results in a 7 percent drop in youth smoking. It makes sense that the same would stand true for higher cigar prices.
Let's put an end to easy access to low-cost tobacco and penny candy-style deals. Like cigarettes, cheap cigars need to be packaged in multiple units. No more nickels and dimes to buy cigars. The idea of buying a single, cheap cigar should be as unimaginable as selling a single loose cigarette.
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Ron Beauregard is the director of the Healthy Communities Tobacco Control Program.