As Massachusetts lawmakers looked Wednesday to address the vaping crisis, convenience store owners say any solution should not be a reason to ban products like menthol cigarettes, which they say has nothing to do with the crisis.
The convenience store owners rallied on City Hall Plaza in Boston to speak out against a proposed ban on all flavored tobacco products in the state. The bill aimed at protecting young people is currently being considered on Beacon Hill and would include menthol, which convenience store owners argue is not part of the problem.
“It is important we draw a hard line between products that have a youth issue and those that don’t,” Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association said.
Even though his business is being affected by it, convenience store owner Humayun Morshed said he understands Gov. Charlie Baker’s temporary ban on vape sales. He said a flavor ban would hurt even more and possibly force him to close Rosario Grocery in Dorchester.
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“Forty to 50 percent of my business comes from menthol cigarettes,” Morshed said. “We would definitely have to cut employees or close.”
Closing stores in communities that rely on them is just one of the consequences according to the group against banning menthol cigarettes. But the state lawmaker who is proposing the flavor ban said the bill was always meant to address more than vaping.
“The industry knows flavors attract young people and they’re fighting real hard to keep that alive and we’re fighting real hard to protect this generation,” Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) said.
Public health advocate Cynthia Loesch-Johnson said leaving menthol out of the bill would leave out her community in Dorchester.
“Menthol flavor is the most popular flavor in African American communities by design because the tobacco industry has targeted our communities with menthol,” Loesch-Johnson said. “Leaving menthol out is leaving black communities out.”
Convenience store owners are also fighting a proposed ordinance in Boston that would limit the sale of menthol cigarettes to adult-only vape shops.
While the store owners say a ban would be make or break for their business, the state’s attorney general said they have to find away to address the public health crisis.
“I have sympathy for the small businesses and the store owners, but were trying to balance public health and what’s going on and we need to take the time to figure this out,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.
State lawmakers hope to vote on the flavored tobacco ban before they break on Nov. 20.