Convenience Store Owners Close Up Shop to Protest Proposed Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

Convenience stores across Massachusetts closed up shop for part of Wednesday so that owners could protest proposed regulations that would take menthol cigarettes off their shelves.

About a thousand members of the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association, as well as owners of other stores across the Commonwealth, shut down their businesses in solidarity to take part in the noon protest outside the State House.

"We are fighting for our rights. We are fighting for our family," Boston Convenience Store Owner Association Secretary Humayun Morshe said at the rally.

The bill, filed by state Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, and Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlboro, would ban all menthol cigarettes and mint tobacco if passed.

Keenan said that, while he understands the businesses concerns, he's not budging on his position. Pointing to health concerns, Keenan said it's time to put a stop to all tobacco use.

"The federal government banned flavored cigarettes back in 2009," Keenan said. "They did not ban menthol. And while overall youth smoking rates dropped, young people were still smoking menthol cigarettes."

Those protesting, however, said lawmakers are using the vaping crisis as an excuse to ban other products to adults. Store owners said banning the products is also going to hurt their businesses.

"FDA has not banned it. Federal has not banned it. So why is the state taking the lead," convenience store owner Vatsal Chokshi asked. "Don't shoot the gun over someone else's shoulder. Doesn't make sense."

Separately, Boston convenience store owners are also upset about a proposed ordinance in the city that would limit the sale of menthol cigarettes to adult-only vape shops.

"This is not big tobacco. There are local businesses, there are 3,400 convenience stores. They employ 50,000 people and they are in every single community," said Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.

A public hearing will be held in Boston Thursday where convenience store owners also plan to protest.

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