MINNEAPOLIS -- Yolo County. Santa Clara County. Contra Costa County. Oakland. San Leandro. San Francisco. All of these California counties or cities have either adopted or are considering adopting a local ordinance that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored-tobacco products.
While proposing to ban the sale of all menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products may be intended to reduce youth access and use of these tobacco products, the enactment of a flavor ban will create the conditions for an illegal market in such flavored tobacco products.
Why? Because a total flavor ban would require retailers to remove up to 100 different flavored tobacco products from store shelves, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, little cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, hookah tobacco and electronic cigarettes and vaping products.
With law-abiding retailers being unable to sell flavored tobacco products, criminal elements will step in and provide a ready supply of flavored tobacco products. That is, an unintended consequence of the ordnance would be the replacement of legal, regulated, retail sales of tobacco products with illegal, unregulated sales of these products.
A prime example of such illicit market activity is New York City, where a tobacco product flavor ban coupled with high tobacco excise taxes has resulted in a widespread illegal market in tobacco products.
Elected officials should not enact local laws that create the conditions for criminal activity that will put the safety of local citizens at risk. In fact, the creation of an illicit trade in flavored tobacco products will make it easier for youth to obtain tobacco because unlicensed and unregulated sellers of tobacco products are not concerned about whom they sell to nor checking photo identification to verify legal age. Rather than allowing criminals to sell flavored tobacco products on street corners and in backstreet alleys, local governments should continue to allow responsible convenience-store, drug-store, tobacco-store and grocery-store retailers to continue to sell flavored tobacco products.
One contingency that local governments have not planned for is the chaotic retail marketplace that will exist in the city when a total menthol and flavor ban ordinance goes into effect.
Contingency plans will be needed because besides creating the conditions for criminal trafficking and illegal selling of flavored cigarettes and tobacco products, a total flavor ban ordinance will create confusion, disorder and anger among adult customers who, up to this point in time, have regularly exercised their personal choice to buy the kind of flavored cigarettes and tobacco products that they prefer. While the magnitude of the marketplace prohibition and criminal activity will be substantial, the public backlash response will be on the same level and city officials should prepare for such repercussions.
According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, tobacco products account for 36% of in-store sales at an average convenience store. The business model for a convenience store relies on gasoline sales at the pump and tobacco sales inside the store. Without both gasoline and tobacco sales, a convenience store is unable to operate profitably.
By banning the sale of all flavored cigarettes and tobacco products, the sales and profit margins of retail stores will plummet, employees will be laid off, stores will close and there will be no sound business reason for any retailer to open a new store in a city or county that enacts such a ban. This devastating economic effect on hard working, family-owned retail stores and their employees cannot be disregarded and is reason enough to forego the adoption of these kinds of ordinances.