SingleStick cigarettes once sold at convenience stores are no more, after the Food and Drug Administration stopped sales.
There was no outcry, no mourning for its passing: The SingleStick cigarette you’d see for sale at convenience stores, just one cigarette, in a plastic tube, selling for 75 cents to $1 each.
They had been around for 15 years, sometimes displayed in a cardboard box on the cash-register counter, sometimes inside a plastic box that rolled them out like toothpicks.
But who would admit to being a SingleStick fan? That’d be like admitting you buy those little single bottles of Gallo wine.
Told “no more,” the customers simply slumped off.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped the sales June 22, and stores in this state had until Sept. 1 to sell off any remaining stock.
“They were very popular. We sold 80 a day,” says Amy Chinn, owner of the Mercer Mini Mart in Seattle. “People would ask me what happened. I would tell them, ‘Ask the government. I can’t answer that.’ “
Well, the answer is that last year the FDA took over the regulation of tobacco products.
Anti-smoking forces had never liked that some enterprising stores would open up a pack of cigarettes and sell them individually. They said that would entice kids to buy them and begin the habit.
So in 1993 states banned stores from doing that.
But because of quirks in laws of a few states, including Oregon and Washington, it turned out that until the FDA stepped in, individual cigarettes could be sold — if each cigarette had its own tax stamp.
Where there is a market, there is a way.
A Phoenix company, Prime Time International, decided to package individual cigarettes in plastic tubes, and at first had workers applying the stamps by hand.
Then it figured out how to use automation to apply encrypted tax stamps to each tube, so each tube had its own individual stamp.
It’d turn out that Oregon and Washington were the biggest markets for SingleSticks.
Prime Time says it got a bad rap by those accusing it of catering to minors.
First of all, says Jim Deer, general counsel for the company, presumably stores enforce tobacco laws whether it’s for one cigarette or for a pack.
The main customers for SingleSticks, says the company, were people trying to cut back on smoking and figuring it was worth $1 to buy just one cigarette.
At her minimart, Chinn says, “Some people would buy three or four of the smokes, and smoke two in the morning and two in the evening. I kept saying, ‘This is very expensive. Why don’t you buy a pack?’
“They’d say, ‘This is my last cigarette. I’m gonna quit.’ “
For Dave Wilkinson, who works in the surveillance room of a Renton casino, banning sales of single cigarettes is, well, “mind-boggling … it’s the nanny state.”
Wilkinson, 52, has been a spokesman for smokers’ rights, although he quit his pack-a-day habit in 1986 (hypnosis, he says).
What bothers him is that he sees the banning of SingleSticks as one more example of the government trying to dictate the habits of people.
“What are they going to do next, say I can’t buy a single beer, but I gotta buy a 12-pack or 24-pack? Or that I can’t buy one bottle of soda but have to buy a six-pack?” he says.
Prime Time says it’s not giving up the fight to sell SingleSticks, even though it says that these days, it makes its money from selling various flavored cigars.
It soon plans to introduce a 20-pack of SingleSticks that’ll be slightly larger than a regular pack of cigarettes.
Of course, having to buy 20 SingleSticks seems to contradict how the cigarettes were marketed in the first place.
Prime Time says it’s hopeful.
As Chinn says about her SingleStick customers, “They kept coming back. They’re addicted to it.”
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org