Cherry chewing tobacco and chocolate cigarillos soon will be a thing of the past in gas stations and convenience stores in St. Paul.
The city followed Minneapolis’ lead on Wednesday by prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, except at specialty stores that get at least 90 percent of their revenue from tobacco. St. Paul also is increasing cigar prices for the second time in two years.
“It’s going to send a strong message to the tobacco industry that their intent to appeal to kids is not going to be tolerated,” Council Member Dai Thao said.
Traielle Godfrey, 17, who lives on the city’s East Side, told the council that he has friends who are younger than 18 who buy flavored tobacco at corner stores. He said keeping such products — sold in such flavors as kiwi-strawberry and bubble gum — away from kids will save many people from struggling with addiction.
But business owners lashed out against the change, saying it would hurt their bottom line and push customers to other cities.
There are already enough protective measures in place to prevent children from getting the products, several store managers said, noting that they keep tobacco behind checkout counters and require identification to purchase it.
“It goes back to the adults and parents smoking around them” that really influences youth tobacco use, said Brian Henderson, who manages a BP on Randolph Avenue. “The kids don’t see it at the store and say, ‘Gee, I want to smoke one.’ ”
Henderson said the store’s flavored products, including cherry chewing tobacco and grape and blueberry flavored cigarillos, do not make up a significant amount of its income. But he estimates that at least three in five customers buy some type of tobacco product when they visit the station, and he’s worried that Wednesday’s decision is an indicator of future City Council limitations on tobacco sales.
“Them taking the liberty away — and down the road what could that mean?” Henderson said.
The ordinance will cause the average Holiday station store in St. Paul to lose $50,000 a year, Holiday spokesman Steve Rush said.
Meanwhile, the ban is likely to benefit owners of specialty tobacco stores. Shoppers who previously went to gas stations to pick up flavored products will now come to his shop, said Maher Safi, who runs a shop called Midway Smokes.
Nonetheless, he opposes the change. The ordinance includes other rules that he said will impact his shop.
It increases the minimum price to $2.60 for each cigar sold in packages with three or fewer cigars, up from the $2.10 minimum that the city had imposed on single cigars in 2014. It also sets a $10.40 minimum cost on packages of four or more cigars.
“Eventually, what’s going to happen is customers will go to other cities,” Safi said, where they can buy a cigar for 89 cents.
The ordinance also limits sales of flavored electronic cigarettes. E-cigarette proponents said this could end up harming the health of people who rely on the flavored vapor to wean themselves off tobacco cigarettes.
The ban — which does not include menthol, mint or wintergreen flavors — will take effect in April. Minneapolis’ regulation took effect last week.