Fact Check: Minneapolis Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers Ad Against Proposed Local Menthol Ordinance

Cigarettes, Disparities, Flavors (including Menthol), Healthy Retailers, Youth
Full-page ad from The Coalition for Neighborhood Retailers in Minneapolis, MN.
In Minneapolis, The Coalition for Neighborhood Retailers (Coalition) has released a full-page ad urging residents to support their neighborhood retailers by telling council members to vote “no” on a menthol ordinance that would restrict the sale of menthol flavored tobacco products to tobacco shops that serve people age 18 and over. The ad features a list of bulleted concerns that retailers have about the impacts of a menthol ban on their businesses. Corner and Convenience stores are important and contribute to the overall health of a community, so it is important to assuage these concerns with facts around the impacts of tobacco control policies on both the store and the community. Many of these concerns are fed to store owners by the tobacco industry to incite fear and push retailers to join them in the fight against tobacco control policies that will improve community health.
Let’s take a look at what the facts and data really say:
Concern: "For many Minneapolis residents, corner stores are the only place to buy groceries – your neighbors want to continue being a vital part of your neighborhood and the community."
Facts:
  • While many corner stores provide vital access to groceries and other goods to communities, the sale of a deadly product is not vital nor beneficial to any community.
  • Community members and their children who may be limited to grocery shopping in corner stores that sell tobacco are exposed to an unhealthy retail environment with prominent marketing and access to products that encourage youth to start smoking and make it harder for adults to quit, prompting impulse purchases.[1,2Healthy retail environments are vital to healthy communities.
  • For more information on impacts of the retail environment on communities check out our page on Why Retail Tobacco Control is Important.
Concern: "This ordinance would force many stores out of business by imposing a new form of Prohibition – banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and menthol, mint, and wintergreen tobacco products at the vast majority of stores."
Facts:
  • The ordinance is not a prohibition on menthol tobacco products. The ordinance simply restricts where menthol tobacco products can be sold. Adults with access to retailers who cater to people ages 18 and over will still be able to legally purchase and use menthol products within the city. The ordinance does, in turn, limit youth access to menthol tobacco products and exposure to targeted marketing that promote youth smoking initiation.
  • For more information on how tobacco industry marketing targets youth, check out our page on Stores Near Schools.
Concern: "Minneapolis retailers stand to lose more than $73,000,000 in tobacco sales – plus millions more in lost sales of gasoline, beverages, and snacks."
Facts:
  • When people stop smoking, they don’t stop driving, snacking, drinking, or purchasing goods from their local retailers. Instead of buying tobacco, people use that money to buy other goods.
  • Researchers have analyzed the impact of policies that reduce smoking on the density of convenience stores in the US. to determine if tobacco control policies have a negative impact on convenience store businesses. Analyzing the convenience store density trend over 12 years showed that the density of retailers increased every year except for 2. [3
  • This demonstrates that policies that reduce smoking don’t have negative impacts on the density of retailers within a community.
  • For more information on this study check out our page on Rebutting Economic Arguments Against POS.
Concern: "Your local retailers are not “Big Tobacco”, but your neighborhood businesses."
Facts:
  • This is true. Local retailers are NOT Big Tobacco, but the tobacco industry uses neighborhood businesses as a gateway to market and distribute products to youth and marginalized communities in particular.
  • The 2016 updated Deadly Alliance report states that 90% of the tobacco industry’s immense budget is spent on inundating tobacco retailers, including convenience and corner stores, with marketing materials for low cost tobacco products that are often targeted towards youth and marginalized community members, such as African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, and people with mental illnesses. The industry goes out of its way to manipulate both retailers and these targeted communities to stand against tobacco control policies that could improve health outcomes for everyone.
  • In 2014 alone, the tobacco industry provided retailers with over $294 of promotional allowances for cigarette and smokeless tobacco products. These incentives to sell tobacco are often formalized in contracts that allow Big Tobacco to define the amount of advertising and tobacco products to be displayed, where they are displayed, and at what prices the products are sold.
  • Read about recent manipulation and interference of menthol bans in Minneapolis and other cities by reading A Discussion on Menthol Bans and Criminalization of Black Communities.
  • Also, learn more about targeted marketing of marginalized communities on our page on Disparities in Point-of-Sale Advertising and Retailer Density.
Concern: "Retailers and their employees have done nothing wrong, but would be punished simply because they sell legal products. These retailers are responsible, honest people who have a 98% compliance rating in preventing tobacco sales to minors."
Facts:
  • Neither retailers nor employees would be “punished.” There is a transition period built into the policy that allows retailers and their employees to reasonably transition away from selling menthol products. It won’t happen all at once. Retailers won’t be pushed out of business from a loss of sales, and employees will also be able to remain employed at these retailers.
  • The issue is not simply one of the actions of retailers and their employees complying with sales laws, but also one of exposure and marketing that creates a culture of smoking in neighborhoods, where youth and people attempting to quit can be influenced. Tobacco is a legal product, but it is also a product that is the country’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. It kills 5,900 Minnesotans each year alone.
Concern: "Banning menthol products will only take away sales from licensed, regulates stores – giving it to street criminals and illegal underground market."
Facts:
  • Menthol tobacco products will not be “banned” under the proposed policy. Menthol product sales will simply be restricted to locations with adult-only clientele.
  • There is also no evidence that substantial underground markets emerge when tobacco products are regulated. Adults who choose to continue using menthol products may have less convenient access to the products, but will still be able to buy them. Because adults will still have access to the products at regular prices, people who run a black market would not be able to make much profit from menthol sales and will be less inclined to participate in unlicensed menthol sales.
Concern: "Yes, let’s think about the children – street criminals selling banned tobacco don’t ask for age identification like our retailers do."
Facts:
  • The evidence shows that exposure to tobacco marketing and promotion in the retail environment causes youth to experiment with and start smoking. Youth are also most likely to initiate tobacco use with a flavored or menthol product, [4] and nearly half of US adolescents visits a convenience store at least once per week.[5] If youth are not exposed to menthol tobacco in stores, they are less likely to develop an interest in smoking, and there is no issue of youth seeking out unlicensed individuals selling menthol.
Concern: "Some 3,200 retail employee jobs are in jeopardy because tobacco accounts for one-third or more of all sales for many local retailers, and if menthol tobacco sales are banned, retailers will be forced to layoff good, hardworking employees who depend on their jobs."
Facts:
  • In 2011, researchers created a model to determine the economic impact of tobacco control policies that decrease smoking. To conduct the analysis, the researchers used past data on cigarette sales, cigarette tax rates, and employment from 1990 to 2004 to estimate what would happen to retail jobs and revenues if there was a large drop in smoking rates.
  • The study found that overall employment for the US retail industry would be expected to remain relatively unchanged despite a substantial decrease in cigarette consumption. Stores types selling a variety of goods other than tobacco will be able to drive profits from their other product offerings.
  • For more information on this study check out our page on Rebutting Economic Arguments Against POS
It is important for retailers to continue to be a part of conversations around tobacco control policies and business, because of their vital role within communities. The more that retailers can act as leaders in promoting healthier retail environments, the better health outcomes will be for members of communities.