Minnesota retailers take a great amount of pride in the role they play in keeping tobacco products out of the hands of minors. We believe retailers have earned the right to be viewed by the Legislature as partners in this effort. Yet, having achieved a compliance rate of 98 percent — the third highest in the country, according to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — the Minnesota retail community could face new restrictions on the products we can sell, putting us at a distinct disadvantage to other businesses in the state that are not subject to the same restrictions. The regulations will threaten the ability of store owners to maintain jobs and potentially put businesses at risk.
Currently before the Legislature is well-intended but far-reaching legislation that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette products at retail locations other than designated tobacco-only and e-cigarette shops, often referred to as vape shops. Many of these vape shops are not subject to FDA inspection, as opposed to retail locations across Minnesota that sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
Restricting sales to only vape shops and tobacco outlets could harm local businesses. Businesses should have a fair and level playing field in deciding what products to sell. States should not decide which businesses retain the right to sell a particular product; business owners know best what products their customers prefer.
Congress and the FDA have established a national approach to the regulation of tobacco products. And the FDA has expressed its intention to extend this comprehensive regulatory authority over e-cigarettes. In proposed rules released just this week, the FDA said restrictions on flavors are premature. This is precisely the type of research-based, national approach that is appropriate for these products.
We hope the Legislature can appreciate the potential impact of the proposed legislation. We are not opposed just because retailers will lose sales — but because they will lose customers. If customers can no longer find the e-cigarette products they want in retail stores, they will take their business to stores where they can find the types of products they want.
Minnesota’s retail community — including approximately 6,200 stores that typically sell flavored cigars, smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes — is a model for the responsible sale of these products, and our nation-leading compliance rate with all applicable laws shows that retailers are serious about keeping tobacco and e-cigarette products away from kids.
In addition to being simply wrong, it doesn’t make any business sense for retailers to risk their stores by selling to minors. While even just one minor purchasing tobacco or e-cigarette products from a retailer is too many, the compliance rates demonstrate that the problem of underage access does not stem from behind retail counters. As such, it is unfair and harmful to the local business community to remove these products from shelves.
Minnesota’s retailers are leaders in preventing youth access to tobacco and e-cigarette products. Collaborative efforts to extend the downward trend in youth tobacco use should continue, but the Legislature’s picking winners and losers is not the solution.
Lance Klatt is executive director of the Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association; Bruce Nustad is president of the Minnesota Retailers Association; Jamie Pfuhl is president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, and Kevin Thoma is executive director of the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association.