Earlier this month, the Minneapolis City Council banished menthol cigarettes from every corner store, gas station, and bar — exiling them to a few specialty shops in neighborhoods like Linden Hills and Longfellow.
I get it. Smoking is bad. It’s expensive and sometimes isolating. Now, to be clear, I don’t chain smoke. But when I do smoke, I choose menthols.
Many of my fellow retailers attended the public council hearings, voicing our opposition to the ban. We gave them better ideas to address the problem, but we were clearly silenced.
The city of Minneapolis rightfully decided not to ban menthols in 2015 because it is discriminatory against communities of color and the LGBTQ community, both of whose members choose menthol at a higher rate than the general population.
But now, with everyone distracted by the Washington train wreck and the mayoral race train wreck, the council rushed through the same ban it rejected two years ago.
The new ordinance was designed to make getting a pack of menthols super annoying. Not illegal. Not more expensive. Just farther away and in stores that close at 8 p.m. and aren’t open on Sunday.
What’s really surprising to me is that the two Minneapolis City Council members who brought this forward, Cam Gordon and Lisa Bender, are the same members who led the charge to repeal “lurking” and “spitting” as crimes, which were proven to be racially motivated and subjectively enforced.
Eliminating menthols from all corner stores, gas stations, bars and bodegas will restrict supply and increase demand. The heightened demand will encourage people to sell them on the side, creating an underground market. The police will try to stop this — and, bam, increased interactions between police and the communities most likely to smoke menthols: queer people and black people and smokers like me.
I think we all want to decrease unnecessary interactions with the police, not create new petty crimes the police shouldn’t enforce anyway.
I applaud Barbara Johnson and Blong Yang for voting against this nonsense — and I am cautiously optimistic about the fact the ordinance will not be enforced until August of next year.
That being said, the Minneapolis City Council needs to stop its patronizing social engineering in hopes that we will be turned into the people they want us to be and start listening to the people we are.
And the choice between whether I want to smoke menthols or regulars is one I am capable of making and should be free to make.
Kevin Aldwaik lives in Minneapolis.