BOSTON — With a new Massachusetts law banning the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products set to go into effect June 1, a local convenience-store association is asking Gov. Charlie Baker for a reprieve, given the hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA), Stoughton, Mass., has sent two separate letters this spring asking for the delay. At posting time, June 1 was still the day for the ban to begin.
“We continue to apply pressure from a variety of sources,” Jonathan Shaer, executive director of NECSEMA, told CSP Daily News. “That being said, we have not received a definitive position one way or another from the legislature or governor.”
In the letter to the governor dated April 17, Shaer expressed concern over c-store operators who are struggling during the economic upheaval that the pandemic has caused, as well as for tobacco consumers who have to travel across state lines to get their products.
Regarding the retailers, Shaer said a survey of his members—many of whom he said are single-store operators—showed that in early April, sales were off 30% to 50% overall, gasoline sales were off 60% and lottery was down 20%.
Additional restrictions on tobacco sales may also put greater pressure on the state’s limited enforcement capabilities, according to a recent report. Separate from the NECSEMA pleas, a Massachusetts task force on illegally distributed tobacco products earlier in the year reported that authorities are running out of storage space for cigarettes seized during their enforcement activities.
In its report released Feb. 28, the task force said the state has outgrown its current storage facilities and has spent time in the past year exploring other storage options to accommodate the growing amount of seized contraband tobacco. The product must be preserved as evidence for the task force’s civil and criminal enforcement cases.
“Since July 1, 2019, the state police has seized approximately $30,000 worth of untaxed tobacco products—a purposefully minimized amount due to the lack of an appropriate storage facility for seized tobacco evidence,” the report said. “Current tobacco storage is nearly at maximum capacity, which has led to an unusually low number of tobacco seizures.”
In reference to the upcoming menthol, mint and wintergreen ban, the task force said it is in the process of gathering information concerning the ban’s potential effect on retail sales. Specifically, it is considering the need for increased enforcement efforts concerning flavored smokeless tobacco.
Earlier in its report, the task force cited a “strong motivation” to smuggle smokeless products specifically because of the higher taxes in Massachusetts compared to other states. The June 1 flavor ban on smokeless products in particular will probably cause “an increase in smuggling activity and black market sales,” the report said.