Tobacco retailers in St. Paul are opposed to a proposed regulation that would increase cigarette prices, restrict sales and increase penalties for rule breakers.
Local businesses feel left out of the political process and have struggled to be heard since the city council acted remotely at the start of the pandemic, Minnesota Retailers Association president Bruce Nustad said Wednesday at a news conference outside Tobasi Tobacco in St Paul. Business owners are already grappling with the economic aftermath of the pandemic, he said, and they now fear new restrictions on tobacco sales will send their customers elsewhere.
“Retailers have been asked several times to change their business model for the City of St. Paul without evidence that these changes made any difference,” said Nustad. “In addition to the pandemic, convenience retailers have been at the forefront.”
The ordinance, which all seven council members support and which Mayor Melvin Carter has announced, would be one of the strictest in the nation. It would reduce the number of tobacco licenses available in the city, deter liquor stores from selling menthol products, and increase penalties for retailers who violate local laws. It would also set a minimum of $ 10 for a pack of cigarettes and prohibit the use of coupons on tobacco and vapor products; The average price per box in Minnesota is $ 9.57, according to the state Department of Commerce.
Business owners and smokers who resisted the proposal wrote letters to city officials asking them to allow adults to spend their money as they please. Fewer shoppers could force trusted neighborhood stores to close their doors, they said.
“Rather than forcing cigarette tax revenues to another state through bad policies, focus on using cigarette and tobacco taxes to fund useful smoking cessation programs,” wrote Robert Zeimet, a resident of St. Paul.
Non-smoking advocates say that increasing the price of tobacco products is a very effective way of reducing tobacco use. Stopping tobacco addiction in teenagers before it starts and helping adults quit prevents future disease and death and lowers health costs, David Willoughby, chief executive officer of ClearWay Minnesota, wrote to the city.
“Decades of evidence shows that increasing the price of cigarettes is the most important way to help adults quit smoking and prevent children from ever smoking color,” wrote Willoughby.
The city council is expected to vote on the ordinance on October 27th.
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