BOSTON — In the face of a proposed ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes, hundreds of convenience stores and retailers across Massachusetts are vowing to temporarily close on November 6 in protest.
The protest, organized in part by the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association and said to include over 1,000 retailers, is the result of a proposed bill from Senator John Keenan (D-Norfolk) and State Representatives Donald Wong, Jason Lewis and Danielle Gregoire.
The bill, announced in September, would regulate and curtail the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including artificial flavors such as menthol.
The act, sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health, is part of a larger nationwide reaction to what some have dubbed a national vaping crisis, which has already included a temporary ban enacted by Governor Charlie Baker on the sale of vaping related products in the state.
The bill would fine retailers who violate the law a $100 fine for the first offense and $200 and $300 fines for subsequent offenses.
“We’re not going after systems, the devices, the products themselves,” noted Senator Keenan earlier this month. “We’re just banning what [it is] that has been used by the industry to target young people.”
Organizers of the protest say the protest, scheduled to begin at noon on the Massachusetts State House steps, is intended to demonstrate the role tobacco retailers play for local industries and communities, as well as addressing “the risks associated with such a ban, including the failure of proposed bans to prevent minors from accessing and using tobacco, racial inequality, food security, and crime."
"City and state leaders must reject this racist segregation era policy," said Corneal Allen of the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association in a press release. "The ban on menthol cigarettes sends a message to all blacks and minorities in Boston that they aren't smart enough to choose, but white people are. Thanks but no thanks."
Store owners involved in the protest have have indicated they’ve offered alternatives to the ban, including increased penalties and fines, stricter ID screening and educational outreach of smoking-related hazards.
Banning menthol cigarettes, they claim, will only encourage what they call “Massachusetts' already problematic and lucrative illicit market.” According to a 2018 report from the Massachusetts Illegal Tobacco Task Force, illicit tobacco sales resulted in an estimated revenue loss of $2 - $3 million for retailers over the course of several years.
"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 and Energy Marketers Association. "Can you imagine a day without your local convenience store?"
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