Association Expands Focus on Local Tobacco Ordinances

Briant of NATO warns new rules can lead to ‘entire category’ not being sellable

MINNEAPOLIS -- Every tobacco retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer reading this article needs to understand the gravity of the movement by advocates to propose and lobby for the adoption of local retail tobacco ordinance restrictions. While the three states with the most local ordinance activity are California, Massachusetts and Minnesota, local ordinances attempting to enact further restrictions on the sale of legal tobacco products have been proposed in numerous other cities and counties in a growing number of states.

The kind of local ordinances proposed are usually more severe than legislative bills considered by state lawmakers. These local proposals now include banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and menthol-, mint- and wintergreen-flavored other tobacco products, and all flavored cigars and pipe tobacco. This means that a local proposal can result in an entire category of flavored tobacco products no longer being sellable by retailers.

Other proposed restrictions include raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, mandating minimum-package sizes for cigars, setting minimum-retail prices on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and limiting the number of retailers that can be licensed in a given city to sell tobacco products.

As recently reported, cities in the Bay Area of San Francisco are considering flavor bans, which include all menthol cigarettes. In the past, local ordinances have had the underlying purpose of preventing underage youth from accessing and using tobacco products. However, in a public hearing on the Oakland, Calif., proposed flavor-ban ordinance, one of the city council members expressed the opinion that while preventing underage individuals from obtaining tobacco products is one of the goals, the new ordinance is also aimed at preventing adults from being able to purchase flavored-tobacco products.

In a similar vein, raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 is another example of taking away the rights of legal-age adults to decide for themselves if they desire to purchase and use a legal product.

This change in the focus of local ordinances to restricting or prohibiting even adults from buying and using legal tobacco products has led NATO, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, to expand its efforts to monitor and respond to these local ordinance threats. With so many retailers, be they convenience stores, tobacco stores, grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores and liquor stores, relying on the sale of tobacco products to varying degrees, the threat of these local ordinances cannot be underestimated.

For example, if a local ordinance is adopted that bans all flavored-tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, retailers would be required to remove a majority of the tobacco products that they currently sell from their store shelves. Such a drastic reduction in tobacco products available for sale could be financially devastating to retailers and lead to employee layoffs and even store closures.

This is why Minneapolis-based NATO is expanding its role to assist retailers in cities and counties where a local tobacco ordinance is being considered. At NATO, local is all about local. This means that it is more important than ever for local retailers to become involved and contact their local officials to educate them how such restrictions will affect their business, their employees' jobs and their contributions to the local community.

So when a local ordinance is proposed in a city or county where they operate a store, retailers need to become engaged and work with NATO to oppose unfair and unreasonable restrictions on the sale of tobacco products.

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