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More smokers opting for electronic cigarettes

By John Lundy

Forum News Service

DULUTH — With a cigarette tax increase looming in Minnesota, a trend toward cheaper alternatives is accelerating.

That includes roll-your-own cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

"A lot of people are going to the electronic ones," said Mike Kasapidis, manager of Cigs for Less. "It’s a new trend now."

Mike Waz, manager of the Smoke Shop, agreed.

"What we’re seeing is a huge interest in electronic cigarettes," Waz said. "E-cigs are just so much more economical."

Although the Legislature also passed a tax increase on e-cigarettes, the overall cost is significantly less than for traditional cigarettes, the retailers said. And they get a higher profit margin on e-cigarettes and everything else that isn’t a traditional cigarette.

"You only make 8 percent on cigarettes, which is nothing," Kasapidis said. "Cigarettes are just to get people in there."

State Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, who sponsored the state’s Freedom to Breathe Act in 2007, said he didn’t like the e-cigarette tax hike.

"There are unresolved scientific issues about electronic smoking, but I think it definitely would be more healthy to do that than it would be to do regular smoking," Huntley said.

Waz went so far as to call e-cigarettes a "win-win, health-wise," because there’s no smoke and no tar.

But Mike Sheldon, senior communications manager for ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce tobacco use, said he’s an e-cigarette skeptic.

"It’s important to remember that these are not a safe alternative to smoking," Sheldon said. "E-cigarettes are not (Food and Drug Administration)-approved. They’re not regulated. Consumers don’t have any way of knowing what’s in them."

Want to quit?

A Minnesota nonprofit provides free services for those trying to quit smoking.

Quitplan Services, offered by ClearWay Minnesota, offers counseling, support and access to nicotine patches, lozenges and gum, all free.

The nonprofit, which was funded with 3 percent of Minnesota’s 1998 tobacco settlement, launched Quitplan in 2001.

To learn more, call (888) 354-7526 or visit

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