In an ongoing effort to crack down on tobacco sales to youth and other vulnerable groups, St. Paul’s city council will soon vote on a sweeping anti-smoking ordinance that would reduce the number of tobacco licenses available in the city, set a $ 10 minimum price for cigarette packs and a ban on cigarette coupons and price promotions, including vape coupons.
Opponents of the retail sector and anti-tobacco advocates agree the proposal would likely amount to the most aggressive tobacco sales restrictions in the country.
“We’ve been working on this for almost two years,” said Jeanne Weigum, president of the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota. “What started primarily as an award discount ordinance has evolved into something of an omnibus non-smoking ordinance. Some of them are quite revolutionary.
To the best of his research, only the cities of New York City and Providence, RI, have gone so far as to ban discounts or coupons on cigarettes, a popular sales lure used by established convenience store chains to attract customers. . The St. Paul Ordinance goes even further by also banning coupons for vape products in vape shops.
The prospect of creating a minimum pack price of $ 10 is likely to attract the attention of the retail industry, given that state law already sets minimum costs per brand and sub-brand. A long state formula takes into account the manufacturer’s price, cigarette stamp charges and sales tax, wholesale cost of doing business, and retail cost of doing business.
Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said the council’s proposal “looks like an untimely ordinance,” given that stores have been hit by the recession, pandemic and competition from online retailers, in addition to Council’s previous restrictions against sales of flavored tobacco.
“This is probably the most ambitious local tobacco regulatory order I have seen in a long time, if ever,” Nustad said. “What I tend to hear in St. Paul right now, pointing out what the council has been doing in recent years in the tobacco business, is that it is too early.”
NO MORE MENTHOLOUS CIGARETTES IN ALCOHOL STORES
Liquor stores under the Saint-Paul ordinance would no longer be allowed to sell mentholated tobacco products. The inclusion of this provision in the new ordinance was of particular importance to advocates of tobacco control in communities of color, which are home to a disproportionate number of liquor stores.
The ordinance would create two classes, or classifications, of tobacco sales licenses. The “tobacco shop” license would include convenience stores and grocery stores that sell tobacco products. The “Tobacco Products Shop” license would be required for specialty stores where at least 90% of sales are tobacco products.
The total cap on the number of tobacco store licenses would be 150, well below the 190 licenses in effect in St. Paul today.
Existing licensees would not lose their licenses, but it would take years for a new license to become available. The number of tobacco store licenses would be capped at 25, down from 39 currently in force.
“Any change in the number of licenses issued to establishments would occur over time through attrition as current licensees go bankrupt, decide not to renew, etc.,” said Suzanne Donovan, spokesperson for the Department of safety and security of St. Paul. Inspections, in an email.
Weigum noted that the number of operating licenses has declined over the past decade. In 2018, the last time the council capped tobacco licenses at existing levels, 242 licenses were in use.
Penalties for tobacco store licensees – such as convenience stores – who sell to underage buyers or sell flavored tobacco products would increase. They would more than double from $ 200 to $ 500 for a first offense, drop from $ 400 to $ 1,000 for a second offense, and drop from $ 800 to $ 2,000 for a third offense.
A store displaying, promoting or guilty of multiple sales of single cigarettes, menthol cigarettes or fruit flavored tobacco would face a 10 day license suspension for a first offense. A second violation could result in the revocation of the license.
PROPOSAL TO BE INTRODUCED WEDNESDAY
The broad anti-smoking proposal, which is sponsored by city council president Amy Brendmoen, will be officially presented to city council on Wednesday. It could be voted on two or three weeks later, after a public hearing.
The ordinance represents the latest salvo in the city’s continuing efforts to limit the reach of tobacco retailers and the tobacco industry in general. As the federal government clamps down on tobacco advertising targeting youth, industry critics have reported an increase in what they see as substitution efforts, from fruit chewing tobacco to billboards advertising tobacco products in high-minority neighborhoods.
Nustad said that rather than imposing new rules, retailers are calling for further study to see if existing anti-smoking prescriptions are having the desired effect of reducing smoking.
St. Paul City Council, like other cities across the country, banned flavored tobacco from convenience store shelves in 2016 and raised the minimum purchase age to 21 in 2019.
The council banned candy stores from selling candy shaped like tobacco products, such as bubblegum cigars and Big League Chew, in 2009.