WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Convenience-store retailer Cumberland Farms is taking six Massachusetts towns to court over their flavored-tobacco bans, claiming the rules give smoke shops and smoking bars a competitive advantage over c-stores.
The 562-store chain—ranked No. 15 in CSP’s Top 202 list of c-store companies—filed a multi-defendant lawsuit against the boards of health in Barnstable, Billerica, Framingham, Sharon, Somerville and Walpole, saying the regulations create an anticompetitive marketplace by keeping the chain from selling products such as Newport menthol cigarettes, Copenhagen wintergreen smokeless tobacco, Garcia y Vega flavored cigars and Juul vaping devices. The rules do allow smoke shops and smoking bars to sell those products, the company said.
“Cumberland Farms is in the business of retailing the products that our guests want,” said Brian Glennon, general counsel for Cumberland Farms, Westborough, Mass. “We are proud of our excellent compliance rates in selling age-restricted products.”
Lawmakers in a number of states are contemplating or enacting restrictive flavored-tobacco regulations as well as e-cigarette bans, with the most recent activity happening in California and New York state.
The Massachusetts restrictions have “no plausible public health rationale,” Cumberland Farms officials said in the release, pointing to studies from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Those studies found that up to 80% of underage users rely on social sources like a friend or relative to obtain tobacco, not retailers.
In those cases where a retail outlet is directly involved, most underage sales occur either online (32.2%) or at vape shops and tobacconists (38.7%), the release said. In contrast, c-stores, gas stations and liquor stores together account for 5.6% of those sales.
Cumberland Farms also brought up similar findings pulled from Massachusetts age-verification compliance data, which showed vape shops and tobacconists have consistently underperformed against the state average for the past three years.
“Nobody does it better than Cumberland Farms, which is why we find the new regulations so nonsensical and frustrating,” Glennon said. “We’re simply calling for a level playing field where we can continue to serve all of our customers, without unelected local officials taking away their right to choose where to shop and what to buy.”
In addition to its lawsuit, Cumberland Farms issued a petition in its Barnstable, Mass., stores. The petition gathered more than a thousand signatures in fewer than three days, the company said. Directed to members of the Barnstable Town Council and Barnstable Board of Health, the petition asks for the town’s regulation to be blocked or repealed before it takes effect July 1.
The chain has spoken out about this issue in the past, the company said. In 2016, more than 2,000 of the chain’s store employees sent a letter to Massachusetts legislators asking for “clear and unambiguous” statewide regulations.