TRENTON, N.J. -- On the heels of San Francisco, Minneapolis and almost a dozen other municipalities banning or restricting the sale of menthol-flavored tobacco products, New Jersey lawmakers recently proposed a bill that would make it the first state to do so.
Opponents of the bill to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes statewide say small businesses would lose more than a quarter of their annual sales if it becomes a law, but lawmakers argued that a prohibition could reduce the prevalence of nicotine addiction and cancer in the state, according to NorthJersey.com, a USA Today news source.
“We recognize that revenue loss, if there is one, is more than matched by the gain in lives,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway of Burlington, N.J. Conaway is the chairman of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, which advanced the bill with a 7-3 vote on Jan. 29.
The proposed legislation would amend current New Jersey law, which prohibits the sale of flavored cigarettes.
Attendees at the Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE) in Las Vegas, which ran from Jan. 30-Feb. 1, said the measure would likely encounter opposition from not only the tobacco industry but from within the state government.
The New Jersey bill will now face scrutiny in the state’s appropriation committee, which will undoubtedly identify a significant loss in state revenue, said Tom Briant, executive director for NATO, a Minneapolis-based tobacco-retailing association. Citing a study done last year on the economic impact of restricting sales of menthol-, wintergreen- and mint-flavored tobacco products in Minneapolis, Briant told TPE attendees at a general session that the average c-store would lose $259,000 in tobacco and ancillary sales annually.
“If you take the results from the Minneapolis study, New Jersey stands to lose hundreds of millions in excise and sales taxes,” Briant said. To recover the lost revenue, he predicted, anti-tobacco advocates would push for an increase in the state’s cigarette excise tax. “But that doesn’t take into account cross-border [activity], smuggling and illicit trade.”
“It’s going to be a long battle on menthol,” said Terry Gallagher, president of retailer and supplier Smoker Friendly International, Boulder, Colo., reacting to the news as he participated in a TPE panel. “[The industry] is not going down without a fight.”