In Battle Over Menthol Ban, It’s Business Vs. Public Health

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An ordinance to drastically limit the sale of menthol tobacco in Minneapolis is getting strong reaction from both sides.

The proposal would ban the sale of menthol related products except in tobacco shops.

A public hearing on the ordinance brought a packed house to city council chambers.

Supporters argue menthol products target young people. Opponents say the ordinance could hurt small businesses in the city.

Metro Petro in Minneapolis is one of the convenience stores impacted. Gasoline isn’t the only product driving sales.

For owner Mia Lambert, a big portion of revenue comes from tobacco.

“Menthol cigarettes and smokeless tobacco is 47 percent of our tobacco category,” said Mia Lambert, owner of Metro Petro.

Mia worries she could lose that revenue due to a proposed ordinance prohibiting her from selling menthol flavored tobacco.

“Potentially half of our business coming in the store may not come here anymore because we don’t have what they want,” Lambert said.

Mia and her husband, Clay, were among a dozen different retailers who voiced their opposition during a press conference at Minneapolis City Hall.

Holding signs saying “Enough is Enough, Minneapolis,” the business owners spoke of how the ordinance could hurt their business.

Madalena Morgan of Bobby and Steve’s Auto World said she’d like more time to understand the economic impact.

Morgan pointed out that a ban on menthol sales could also impact revenue of other products as customers tend to pick up several items during one stop into a convenience store.

“Should this ban go into effect, we need time to transform the business model and that’s not easy,” Morgan said.

Yet, turnout at a public hearing shows those retailers face a tough battle in a decision of public health.

Supporters wanting significant restrictions to menthol sales brought compelling arguments.

“Most youth started out using flavored and menthol tobacco.  There’s just decades of data on that,” said Phil Bergren, who supports the ordinance.

“The easiest way to quit smoking is to never start.  Limiting youth exposure will help them never start,” said a supporter of the ordinance.

For the City Council, who could vote on the ordinance in early August, the decision isn’t just one of public health but of the well-being of some small business.

If approved the ordinance would go into effect immediately but enforcement wouldn’t begin for another year.

More from Rachel Slavik
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