ST. PAUL – Cigarettes infused with lime, vanilla, berry and other candy flavors would be pulled off Minnesota store shelves under a proposed ban by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (search), who accused the tobacco industry Thursday of marketing the specialty products to teens.
"They are clearly undertaking a marketing campaign to promote and market sweetened and candy-flavored cigarettes as a way to attract new smokers and expand market share among youth in Minnesota," Pawlenty, a Republican, said. "This is a terrible practice by these tobacco companies and it needs to be stopped."
Public health officials in two other states — Massachusetts and Michigan — have sent letters to cigarette makers asking them to halt sales of the flavored cigarettes.
The officials questioned whether such sales violate a 1998 agreement by the tobacco industry not to target their products to young people.
Pawlenty appears to be the first governor to promote an outright ban. The products carry names like "Kuaui Kolada," "Twista Lime" and "Winter Warm Toffee."
"The premise that we market to youth, there's no truth to that," said Fred McConnell, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco (search), which makes the flavored Camel brand cigarettes singled out by Pawlenty. "We market to adult smokers only."
Although it is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors, Pawlenty said the flavored cigarettes are drawing in teen smokers anyway. Advertisements in Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines have raised the products' profile among young people, he said.
McConnell said R.J. Reynolds only buys ads in magazines with a predominantly adult readership.
Pawlenty cited preliminary data from national youth smoking survey last year as evidence the flavored cigarettes were growing in popularity among teens.
The survey of 1,600 smokers between ages 16 and 25 found that 16- and 17-year-olds were two to three times more likely to try the flavored cigarettes than those 20 and older.
A 2004 Minnesota survey found that nearly 27 percent of high school seniors admitted to smoking at least once in a month, as did about 15 percent of freshmen.
Rep. Tim Wilkin, R-Eagan, said the governor's proposal probably goes further than he's willing to.
"Personally, I'm not big on banning things. There's an element of freedom involved," Wilkin said.
Wilkin stressed that he hadn't reviewed Pawlenty's plan, but his view is important because the bill would be heard in the House Commerce and Financial Institutions Committee that he leads.
Pawlenty said he would consider similar limitations on the sale of candy-flavored liquor if he was convinced the sweetened drinks are aimed at youth.
In a related development, Republican Rep. Ray Cox of Northfield introduced a bill Thursday to impose a new fee on cigarettes at the wholesale level. The fee would be based on the number of cigarettes distributors sell in Minnesota.
Pawlenty said he is open to the concept, but he withheld his endorsement. He's also taking a wait-and-see approach on bills to raise the cigarette tax by as much as $1-a-pack.
Pawlenty, who has pledged not to raise taxes, said he would want another tax reduced in exchange.