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BOSTON — Municipalities across the country have been taking aim at the legal age to buy tobacco products and at the sale of flavored tobacco, effectively creating a patchwork of legislation. Now, some convenience store owners are raising their collective voice against one city's newly enacted regulations.
On the morning of March 30, Boston c-store owners rallied outside City Hall to protest a city ban on selling flavored tobacco products. The demonstration was led by the Boston Convenience Store Owners Association (BCSOA), according to a Metro news report.
In December, the Boston Public Health Commission voted unanimously to increase the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21 and to restrict sales of sweet nicotine products to retailers only accessible to adults. The move is intended to curb tobacco use by younger consumers.
BCSOA leaders said they support other tobacco reforms like the 21-plus law, but not the flavor ban, the news outlet reported.
"You can go into a liquor store and buy a flavored nip — candy, gummy bear-flavored nip — if you're 21. But if you're 21 and you're an adult and you want to smoke a vanilla-flavored cigar, you can't do that," said Luis Blanco, the group's spokesman and owner of Don Quijote Market in the South End neighborhood of Boston. "That's what we're fighting for, to be on an even playing field."
According to the c-store owners, 30 percent or more of their sales comes from cigarettes and other tobacco products. Many of their tobacco customers also pick up grocery items while there.
"We do serve our community — bread, cheese, milk, sugar, coffee — we have the right to serve them tobacco, too," said BCSOA President Francisco Marte. "We're fighting for our rights, for our business, for our stores."
The Boston flavor ban could push customers to c-stores in neighboring communities, the group believes. In addition, banning flavored tobacco will create a black market for the products, the owners argued.
Despite the opposition, Boston leaders appear to be standing strong behind the regulation, according to the report.
"Increasing the restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products is the right next step for us to be taking to protect the health of Boston's young people," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a written statement.
"We know the consequences of tobacco use are real and can be devastating, especially among youth, and these policy changes will protect Boston's young people from dangerous health concerns," he continued. "I appreciate the concerns of the retailers, and we have valued the perspective of these business owners at all stages of adopting and implementing these rules. "