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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- St. Paul is about to lose "loosies." The city council voted to ban the sale of single -- or loose -- cigarettes, citing a lack of health warning labels and saying the cheap price makes them an attractive option for minors and the poor, the Pioneer Press reported.
"I think it's taking advantage of people," said Council President Kathy Lantry, who proposed the ordinance after complaints from neighbors about the sale of loosies, usually found at neighborhood convenience stores, gas stations and liquor stores. "It really is a way that kids start smoking."
Lantry said she thought selling loosies was illegal, but the city's licensing department couldn't find anything to prevent the practice, according to the Pioneer Press.
In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as part of a broader effort to deter youth smoking, proposed a federal ban on the sale of loosies. The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control also suggests countries ban the sale of single cigarettes, and a 1994 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that youths were more likely than adults to purchase loosies.
Public health experts said the sale of single cigarettes to minors is a big concern.
"I was really shocked that the state didn't already do this," said Dr. Jean Forster of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. "Young people are extremely price-sensitive … especially with the price of cigarettes going up because of taxes and such."
According to a report by ANSR -- the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota -- selling individual cigarettes dates back to the 1930s. It was a practical convenience during the Depression when many consumers couldn't afford a whole pack, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
ANSR's President Jeanne Weigum says loosies are still a bargain compared to a pack, but she argues that they're more likely to effect vulnerable groups. "These are clearly aimed at people who are too poor or too young to buy a whole pack of cigarettes. People who can easily shell out $4 or $5 aren't going out and buying a single cigarette," she continued.
Weigum says community members have complained to her about inner-city convenience stores selling loosies to kids. "It seems to be predatory from our point of view," Weigum said.
St. Paul officials said they're not sure how common loosies are in the city. Each year, the Licensing Department checks cigarette sales to make sure children under 18 aren't buying them. They haven't been checking for loosies. But that will change now with the council vote, the report said.
St. Paul is not the first Minnesota city to ban singles. Cities such as Brainerd, Mankato and Coon Rapids do, as well as several counties, including Hennepin County.