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OUR OPINION: Restrict kid-friendly tobacco products to specialty stores

Kids can be taken in by bright lights, fancy packaging and product placement. That's why sugary cereals are usually kept nearer the floor in grocery stores, and it's why candy and gum are at cart height in checkout aisles in retail stores.

We think it's also why tobacco producers increasingly are packaging their products in wrappers that appeal to children. Same goes for the sweet tastes and smells they now put into items like cigars and e-cigarettes.

There's a television commercial making the rounds that shows three children before a tableful of tobacco products that are suspiciously packaged in bright colors, adorned with kid-friendly wrappers and infused with the candy odors children love.

One young girl says, "This smells like gum."

Answers another: "Yummy."

That commercial, along with other evidence, does tend to show that kids are indeed being targeted by tobacco companies.

So, we're glad to see any efforts to check this practice, including one that has been proposed in Minneapolis. There, city officials are considering Minnesota's first ban of flavored cigars at most traditional tobacco-selling locations.

Last month, the Star Tribune reported that anti-smoking advocates and small retailers squared off at a City Council hearing to debate whether to ban sales of flavored tobacco products at more than 300 locations. That would restrict accessibility of these products to only about two dozen specialty shops.

The proposal targets flavored cigars, smokeless tobacco and certain products designed for e-cigarettes and hookahs, according to the newspaper. The proposal also would set a minimum price of $2.60 for all cigars.

Proponents noted that a 2013-14 survey showed that of 530 youth respondents from north Minneapolis, 76 percent had tried cigarettes and 52 percent had tried cigarillos.

New York City cracked down on flavored tobacco products in 2009, as did Providence, R.I., in 2013. The state of Maine also has a ban in place.

They have it right, and soon, Minneapolis may have it right, too. Eventually, we figure it'll be the law of the land, as it should be.

Why? Because teens — even children younger than teens — are using these products and getting hooked.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 36 percent of middle- and high-school students who have smoked have done so with candy-flavored cigars. And overall, the CDC found that 5 percent of high school-aged students have used flavored cigars, despite laws that prohibit their use.

And in 2013, the anti-smoking group BreatheND reported that high school students are twice as likely as adults — 13.1 percent compared to 6.6. percent — to report smoking cigars in the past month.

This is a problem, but it's one that can be managed.

States — or even communities — can get on top of this by doing just what is proposed in Minneapolis: Allow the sale of flavored cigars and other tobacco-based products only in specialty shops. Take these products out of common places and away from the vulnerable.

Even if a child isn't actually smoking these products yet, that child may be longing to try them, thanks to bright packages and those tantalizing, fruity scents emanating in the checkout line.

— Korrie Wenzel for the Herald

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