State Sen. Kwame Raoul said he has a problem with tobacco companies who appear to target minors with the sale of “kiddie” flavors of products such as Blunt cigar wraps.
Raoul said he is pleased that Gov. Pat Quinn signed Raoul’s House Bill 3801 into law last month banning flavored Blunt wraps, over the objection of the tobacco industry whose lobbyists argued that the “sweet” wrappers were legitimate.
“There is no legitimate purpose for a cotton candy-flavored cigar wrapper, particularly when it is made available to minors and marketed in ways attractive to children,” Raoul said.
Blunt wraps had been considered drug paraphernalia by the federal government but were later reclassified as cigar wrappers. Users often stuff them with marijuana, crack cocaine or other illicit drugs and roll them up. When used with flavored wrappers, the pungent and often unmistakable aroma of the drugs is masked.
Raoul told the Chicago Citizen that he would was sometimes met in the vestibule of the building of his West Hyde Park home by the smell of marijuana. But on occasion, the scent would include a fruity flavor he said came from the cigar wrapper. The senator also at times encountered underage youth who were smoking drugs using the “sweet” wrappers.
“Obviously they were using one of these products,” he said. “My whole argument was that this was meant to be drug paraphernalia.”
Tobacco companies previously came under fire for ad campaigns that were said to entice children to smoke. Animated characters like the smoking camel formerly used in the Joe Camel cigarette ads were eventually banned and tobacco companies were forced to make their ads less kid-friendly. The Federal Trade commission charged that the R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through campaign that was attractive to minors.
Drug use is often cited as one of the culprits of crime and poverty. Though Raoul feels the flavored wrappers were a draw for underage youth, he said he’s not “naïve” enough to think the wrappers are the reason the youth smoke drugs.
“I’m not saying that the tobacco companies are the ones attracting them to drug use. I’m just saying they’re taking advantage of the fact and making it easier, and making it more attractive to them, to not only smoke marijuana and other things but allow them to roll a bigger joint,” he said.
The cigarette papers had already been banned in the city of Chicago – which also recently lessened the penalty for small amounts of marijuana possession – but are now outlawed statewide.
The ban applies only to blunt wraps with flavors clearly aimed at the youth market; tobacco- and menthol-flavored wraps are exempt.
The bill also stiffens the penalties for the making or distribution of small quantities of heroin by decreasing the amount that would require mandatory prison time from five grams to three grams. The move hopes to close a drug dealer loophole where they would package the drug in smaller quantities to avoid prison time.
“We need to take a proactive stance in the struggle against drugs in our neighborhoods,” Raoul said.
“Since I first introduced legislation to ban blunt wraps, these items have seeped out of larger cities and
have spread throughout the state. Before the vote on this measure, I bought blunt wraps to show my
colleagues some of the child-friendly flavors; I was able to find them in a store in Springfield just blocks
from a large high school. We are now sending a clear signal that this is not acceptable.”
By Rhonda Gillespie