BOSTON — More than 100 convenience-store owners gathered at Boston City Hall Plaza on Oct. 30 in protest of city officials considering a ban on menthol cigarettes and mint and wintergreen smokeless tobacco products, according to a local retailer association.
The protest efforts continued Nov. 6 with the closure of dozens of convenience stores, with retailers attending another rally at the Massachusetts State House building, organizers said.
Both the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts legislature are currently considering the tobacco regulations, according to officials with the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA), Stoughton, Mass., and the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association, Dorchester, Mass.
“Massachusetts convenience stores are too often taken for granted,” said John Shaer, executive director of NECSEMA. “Throughout the state, these stores provide the products and services their neighbors need when they need them most and are responsible for the collection and remittance of a significant amount of the state’s tax revenue through the sale of items such as gasoline, lottery and tobacco.”
In the Nov. 6 protest action, several dozen store owners affiliated with the two associations closed their stores and attended a rally at the Massachusetts State House to educate elected officials on the racial inequality of the ban, as well as other effects. These ramifications include food scarcity in underserved neighborhoods, small-business closures, job losses, increased crime and a failure to address minors’ access to and use of products, association officials said.
“Can you imagine a day without your local convenience store?” Shaer said.
Organizers also pointed out that Massachusetts c-stores have a 95% U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliance rate with underage stings.
Richard Marianos, retired assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Washington, D.C., said the proposal will move products from regulated c-stores and expand illicit tobacco sales.
“The revenue generated in Massachusetts from menthol cigarettes is over $2 billion,” Marianos said. “If policymakers move forward with these regulations, there is a wide network of gangs and organized crime that will be ready to fill the void.”
In addition to the efforts in Massachusetts, retailers appear to be mobilizing opposition to a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would impose flavor restrictions, as well as efforts in at least three states to ban flavored tobacco products, two sources involved in the efforts told CSP Daily News on condition of anonymity.