April 19, 2018

Chamber opposes proposed flavored tobacco ban

Courtesy
Stuart Loosemore, director of public affairs and government policy at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Banning a convenience store from selling flavored tobacco products to a 21-year-old adult while that same adult can purchase flavored alcohol at a liquor store would create a disparate retail environment, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to the Board of Health.

The board has been considering regulations to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and set a minimum price for cigars, but the Chamber said that would be the wrong move.

Worcester stores have a 96 percent compliance in age-restricted tobacco sales, wrote Stuart Loosemore, general counsel and director of government affairs and public policy at the Chamber.

Punishing some 266 locations - of which 85 percent are independent stores - would be counterintuitive, Loosemore said.

He cited a similar proposal to ban menthol products in 2015 that could have resulted in a loss of over $5 million in sundry products purchased at stores in addition to tobacco products.

"This translates to real money and real loss for these businesses, and further impacts their ability to hire and/or reinvest back into their properties," Loosemore wrote.

According to Loosemore, a sales restriction would just harm law-abiding businesses and would not address underage tobacco use. Instead, Loosemore suggested a law - similar to the city's policy on underage possession of alcohol - to punish retailers when a minor is found to be in possession of tobacco products.

The law would combine aggressive education efforts with a smoking cessation program, and offenders would be given several chances before being assessed a penalty.

"Let's implement a tool for the community that has been used for decades to deter minors from using adult products, and is being implemented in other Massachusetts communities to address the underage tobacco use issue," Loosemore said.

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