Law & Ordinance: Attacking Tobacco

Minneapolis becomes the poster child for retail regulations

Part 2 of a 7-part report

MINNEAPOLIS -- "I’m honestly confused at this point,” testified a retailer before the Minneapolis City Council as it considered restricting the sale of menthol-flavored tobacco products. “We are your first line of defense for keeping tobacco from underagers.”

“Don’t make decisions about us, without us,” pled another.

After two hours of public testimony, a vote was imminent. And then a council member stood up and  walked out.

She had another appointment.

In that moment, the quorum—and all momentum—was lost.

Among the more than 90 people there expressing either support or opposition of the ordinance were at least a dozen retailers in red shirts that said, “Enough Is Enough, Minneapolis.” They had spent hours walking council members and reporters through the economic effects of the ban, begging for more time and research. And with that council member’s departure, the energy in the room—and the chance for closure—plummeted.

“Are you serious?” someone asked.

“What exactly happened?”

“That was a very cowardly move, and I would say that to her face.”

Restrictions on menthol-flavored tobacco, $15-per-hour minimum wage, paid sick leave, plastic-bag fees, a Styrofoam-container ban, healthy-food mandates and a cigar tax: Over the past 18 months, Minneapolis lawmakers have proposed, passed or enacted more than a half-dozen new ordinances affecting convenience retailers, cutting into their livelihoods by nicks and gashes.

As the current poster child for regulation on steroids, Minneapolis is one of many politically progressive communities making judgment calls on the lives of its citizens at the potential expense of its retailers.

“I had a councilman tell me we’re killing kids,” said Clay Lambert, owner and president of single store Metro Petro, after a meeting over menthol. “How can we fight that?”

His frustration palpable, Lambert felt the council was taking his store for granted. “Businesses don’t have a vote,” he says. “It’s taxation without representation, a punch in the face.”

Click here to read more about the mounting regulations against tobacco.

Next: The Agony of Soda Taxes

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