Tobacco & Nicotine Products
Seen, but not Heard: Implications of the Sale of Single Cigarettes in Urban Communities
(School of Public Health (UMD) Department of Behavioral and Community Health Doctoral Student)
The death of Mr. Eric Garner brought to light the ubiquitous sale of single cigarettes, otherwise known as “loosies.” The effectiveness of high cigarette excise taxes as an evidence-based tobacco control strategy is impeded by the unintended consequence of illegal sales and increased access to cheap, single cigarettes particularly in urban, low-income communities. The sale of single cigarettes have implications for smoking initiation, cessation, and tobacco control regulatory policy. Single cigarettes impede tobacco control’s capacity of promoting healthy environments for all and contribute to the widening gap of tobacco-related health disparities. Loosies are a distinct product in low-income, racial minority communities; where they are especially prevalent among unemployed young adults. Research has shown that 74% of low-income, urban, African American smokers and 48% of non-smokers agreed that single cigarettes should be available in their neighborhoods. About 65% of African American unemployed, young adults reported daily exposure to single cigarettes and 29% reported buying loosies daily. Although some communities perceive single cigarettes as an economic resource and a harm reduction approach, tobacco control advocates deem loosies as undermining the effectiveness of proven tax and price policies. Collaborative action among governmental and community stakeholders are imperative to reducing the pervasive acceptability and availability of loosies among those who are most burdened by the deleterious effects of tobacco use. Comprehensive health promotion and community-engaged strategies such as retailer training, community policy education, and cessation programs are necessary to address this emerging tobacco control threat.