Little cigars along with normal-sized cigars are defined as “tobacco products” under state law and taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes. Various state taxes on cigarettes add up to almost two dollars a pack, and the Department of Revenue estimated that taxing little cigars like cigarettes would raise about $6 million in the 2012-13 budget cycle. Normal-sized cigars would not be affected.
That’s not much compared to the $5 billion state budget shortfall, but it’s a case of legislative Republicans actually backing an uptick in a state tax – rare so far in the current legislative session.
Anti-smoking forces point out that little cigars are the same size as cigarettes, are often sold in similar-size packs and are marketed to cigarette smokers. Some come in flavors like chocolate or grape and could appeal to children, supporters of the higher tax rate said.
“Smokers inhale them as deeply into their lungs as they do cigarettes,” said Molly Moilanen, spokeswoman for ClearWay Minnesota, a coalition of health groups. “They contain as much nicotine. They are just as addictive and just as dangerous as cigarettes.”
The bill sponsors are Republican senators Julie Rosen of Fairmont and Carla Nelson of Rochester. Rosen said it’s not for the tax money that would be raised but rather to discourage youths from using the product.