Local Tobacco Ordinances: What Retailers Need to Do

How to respond to emerging restrictions at the municipal level

MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2011, 248 local tobacco ordinances were introduced and considered by city and county local governments. That number has increased exponentially and, with only one month to go this year, about 670 local tobacco-related ordinances have been introduced by local governments since Jan. 1, 2016.

The agenda underlying many of these proposed ordinance is one of prohibition. It can be seen in the kind of restrictions being proposed, such as flavor bans. It is important to note that these prohibition-type ordinances are aimed at adult tobacco use.

For a number of years, the anti-tobacco groups have claimed that their efforts were to protect youth. Now that claim is also being used to support bans on the right of adults to buy tobacco products. This is where retailers and their adult customers need to become engaged to oppose these kinds of restrictions.

Local Is All About Local: The importance of local retailers participating in an effort to oppose a tobacco ordinance is critical because local elected officials need to hear from their local businesses. Local retailers have much more influence on the action of a city council or a county board than outside industry members.

NATO Local Project: In 2012, NATO started the NATO Local Project, which monitors and helps retailers respond to local tobacco ordinances. If a retailer learns of a proposed retail ordinance, they should call NATO at its toll-free number, (866) 869-8888. More than likely, NATO’s monitoring services would have alerted the association about the ordinance, but that may not always be the case. NATO Local Project staff will send an alert to the association’s retail members that provides information on the ordinance and includes retail talking points and the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of local officials. Retailers should then contact local lawmakers to express their concerns about how the ordinance will affect their retail business.

Social Sources: One of the key arguments that NATO provides to respond to a tobacco ordinance is information about social sources. These include family members, including siblings and parents, plus older friends and even strangers that a significant majority of underage youth relies on to obtain tobacco products. This is an issue that anti-tobacco advocates are fully aware of, but they choose to ignore because it is so much easier to lobby for more restrictive local retail regulations than change the behavior of adults so that they do not supply youth with tobacco products.

Even the FDA has now confirmed through a study sponsored by the agency that social sources are a significant source of tobacco for youth. The initial findings of the Population Assessment on Tobacco and Health study being conducted for the FDA show that minors rely on social sources 81% of the time to obtain cigarettes, 79% of the time to get cigars or little cigars, and almost 77% of the time to gain access to smokeless tobacco.

Customer Involvement: It is just as important for retailers to urge their adult customers to also call and e-mail local lawmakers because their rights will also be affected, especially if the ordinance proposes a ban on the sale of certain tobacco products. Finally, retailers need to attend the public hearing held on the ordinance and testify against the proposed restrictions.

Opposing local ordinances is all about local retailers contacting local officials and letting them know that they are responsible business owners and they share their concern about underage youth not having access to tobacco products, but that the ordinance will only serve to negatively affect law-abiding retailers' business.

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