Flavored tobacco sales debate heats up just days before City Cou - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Flavored tobacco sales debate heats up just days before City Council could vote on the proposal

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Convenience Store owners are making a final push to preserve a chunk of their business. This as the Duluth City Council prepares to weigh in on an ordinance that could restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products in their stores.  If approved, the measure would move all flavored tobacco products to 18-plus smoke shops only. 

The proposal has generated great amounts of controversy in recent months. 

"I'm going to lose probably $80,000 to $100,000 dollars in sales," said Rei Rahkola, owner of Snyder's in the Holiday Center.  

"The real issue here is tobacco, and addiction, and what drives people to that convenience and that ease of a deadly product," said Pat McKone, with the American Lung Association.  

The ALA suggested the ordinance, and it has been backed by the Duluth School district for a couple of reasons, according to McKone.  

She said, "Menthol and other flavored products are the product of choice for kids to learn how to smoke. They are also the product that has been disproportionately marketed to minority populations." 

Many convenience store owners agree, keeping the product out of the wrong hands is a worthwhile venture.

"Retailers want to be a part of a solution, and want to have the dialogue, and are open to that dialogue," said Bruce Newstead, with the Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers.  

But they're concerned about the future of their businesses if they lose out on a product that makes up as much as 30% of their sales.  

"I'm also concerned about my employees. With 100-plus employees, if we see a drop in business, I'm going to see a drop in labor dollars that is going to be available," said Bob Bucci with Holiday Stationstores. 

Businesses are asking the council to consider other options.

"Can we go to 100%  I.D checks for everybody? It doesn't matter if you're 90 years old. If you do not have an I.D, we will not sell to you. We've asked, can we do that? Can we rearrange our back-bars so menthols are not even visible, or any of that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the city has not addressed any of those concerns at this point in time," said Bucci. 

Bucci also says numbers from the FDA shows that adult tobacco stores have a much higher compliance check failure rate than the average convenience store. He believes that could lead to an increase in how much flavored tobacco makes its way into young peoples hands. 

"I don't believe there's going to be less consumption because of this. So, in reality, it's an ordinance that's a feel good idea, but I don't think it's going to accomplish what they're hoping for," said Bucci.  

Meanwhile, the ALA says the ordinance would be the best thing for the community. Spokespeople say their studies show, if approved, the decision would lead to 20% of smokers making an attempt to quit. 

"I really think we've had a good community dialogue. We have worked to educate the community on this issue for three years, and it's time to take action, and it's time for Duluth to lead like it has in the past," said McKone. 

City council will take up the debate at their regularly scheduled meeting Monday. The council could vote on the proposal that night, or they could table it until a later date. 

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