Ban on the sale of flavored tobacco will hurt minority-owned businesses
One of the best parts of my day is greeting customers as they walk through the doors of my store on the corner of Riverside Drive and Route 3 in Augusta. As a kid from Pakistan who moved here when I was 14, owning a convenience store was not my first plan. I wanted to be a software engineer, and that’s what I went to college for.
But while I was working for my uncle in his convenience store, I noticed something. I could help my neighbors, create jobs and contribute to my new home. The economy was growing and I saw my place in it.
Five years ago, I decided to open my own store, MD’s Market. It’s a convenience store where we sell everything from gas to coffee, fried chicken to fruit and seasonal items like knit hats and umbrellas. During the pandemic, when state and local authorities designated only essential businesses to remain open during shutdowns, my 12 employees and I were happy to be able to provide masks, bottled water, bleach and other necessary items. We have managed to stay open despite new challenges posed by the pandemic, supply chain issues, inflation, labor shortages and rising wages.
Today, however, we face one of the biggest threats to the store’s survival: a statewide ban on the legal sale of products that make up 40% of my inventory, flavored tobacco. . I specify legal because if this legislation is passed, legal sales may end, but illegal sales and online sales of menthol cigarettes, snuff and e-cigarettes will explode. Where there is demand, someone will find supply. For example, law enforcement experts claim that the illegal tobacco trade along the northeast coast is a $10 billion industry and fill the void created by Massachusetts law.
In the summer of 2020, Massachusetts implemented a flavored tobacco sales ban that prevented convenience stores like mine from selling menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes. But if you think people suddenly quit smoking menthols and vaping, think again. Besides sales to the illicit market, 70% of the state’s legal menthol sales went to neighboring states like New Hampshire and Connecticut. The remaining 30% switched to menthol-free products. Who benefits from this law? Massachusetts certainly did not. Retailers certainly did not. They lost millions of dollars in sales and the state lost tax revenue to fund important programs. And that hasn’t stopped people from smoking or vaping.
Maine lawmakers probably think they are doing the right thing if they pass this law. They were told that if you ban flavored tobacco from store shelves, you will not only prevent adults from smoking or vaping, but you will also prevent children from experimenting with tobacco.
The problem with this logic: Retailers like me are required by law to check IDs. If we don’t, we incur heavy fines and could lose our license. But we don’t neglect to score for fear of penalties, we score because it’s the right and responsible thing to do.
There are no such guardians in the virtual world where children can simply go on social networks and order online from unscrupulous people willing to ship the products directly to their doorstep. You can bet they don’t verify identities. On the other hand, we follow age verification laws and we use the money we earn in our stores to support the families of our employees, the students of the Cony High School hockey team and the members of our own families. like my brother going to medical school to become a doctor.
Many of the people who own businesses and work in the convenience store industry are minorities. We proudly support our communities with essential goods and services. We pray that lawmakers consider the crippling impact a statewide ban on the legal sale of flavored tobacco will have on our businesses and the people we serve.
Adam Mahmood owns a store in Augusta.