BOSTON — Massachusetts has been known as a leading state for tobacco regulations. Now, convenience store retailers are bringing attention to the role the channel plays in their communities as legislators consider changes to flavored tobacco sales.
On Oct. 30, more than 100 c-store owners rallied on Boston City Hall Plaza for sensible tobacco regulations in Boston and across the state. The retailers highlighted the key role their stores play in providing critical food resources for underserved communities as well as the responsible sale of legal age-restricted products in a regulated and permitted marketplace.
The rally came as the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Legislature consider regulations that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, and mint and wintergreen smokeless tobacco products from c-stores.
"Massachusetts convenience stores are too often taken for granted. Throughout the state, these stores provide the products and services their neighbors need when they need them most, and are responsible for the collection and remittance of a significant amount of the state's tax revenue through the sale of items such as gasoline, lottery, and tobacco," said Jon Shaer, executive director for New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association (NECSEMA).
Taking the sale of flavored tobacco products out of the channel could lead to an uptick in black market tobacco sales, according to Richard Marianos, former assistant director of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"The revenue generated in Massachusetts from menthol cigarettes is over $2 billion. If policymakers move forward with these regulations, there is a wide network of gangs and organized crime that will be ready to fill the void," Marianos said.
"It is almost certain that the passage of these regulations will increase criminal activity and violence in Massachusetts," he added.
According to a NECSEMA release, Massachusetts ranks No. 6 in the United States in tobacco smuggling, while in New York, officials estimate the state loses nearly $1 billion annually in lost taxes to unregulated street sales of cigarettes.
NECSEMA and the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association (BCSOA) said the regulations could also lead to widespread store closures, unemployment and food scarcity, and also disproportionately impact communities of color.
Many of the stores impacted by the policies are in underserved neighborhoods and are frequently the only accessible location for families on government assistance to purchase food and household essentials. The proposal would put many of these stores out of business, c-store owners said.
Organizers also noted that Massachusetts convenience stores have a 95 percent pass rate in compliance checks organized by the Food and Drug Administration.