I have owned and operated Bobby and Steve's Auto World convenience stores in the Twin Cities since 1996. Five of our stores have now been subject to a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored tobacco products. Two of these stores are in Bloomington, where our company spent a great deal of time trying to explain to the City Council why a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products would not solve the problem of youth vaping ("Vote marks slow end to tobacco sales," April 29).
Given the governmental overreach of a blanket ban on all flavored tobacco products, Bloomington and other cities that have adopted such bans should seriously consider repealing the restrictions.
Why? Because a first-of-its-kind study from the Yale School of Public Health has analyzed the impact of San Francisco's local ban on flavored tobacco products on underage youth smoking. Specifically, the study compared the smoking rates of high schoolers in the San Francisco School District with those of students in seven other metropolitan school districts where a flavored tobacco ban was not enacted. The study concluded the following:
"San Francisco's ban on flavored tobacco product sales was associated with increased smoking among minor high school students relative to other school districts. While the policy applied to all tobacco products, its outcome was likely greater for youths who vaped than those who smoked due to higher rates of flavored tobacco use among those who vaped. This raises concerns that reducing access to flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems may motivate youths who would otherwise vape to substitute smoking."
This is important because the smoking rate for San Francisco high school students under the age of 18 increased from 4.7% in 2017 before the adoption of the city's ordinance to 6.2% in 2019, the year after the ordinance was enacted. This shows a 32% increase in underage youth cigarette smoking rates in San Francisco.
During the same period, the underage smoking rates in the other school districts that did not enact a flavored tobacco product sales ban continued to decline to an average rate of just 2.8% as of 2019.
Bobby and Steve's plus other responsible retailers told the Bloomington council members that young people were not getting tobacco products from our stores, making a total ban on all flavored tobacco products unnecessary. However, neither the mayor nor a majority of the council seemed to grasp what the retailers were saying.
When a flavor ban ordinance is passed, as in Bloomington, a city council does not consider the bigger picture or additional facts and gambles that underage vaping and tobacco use will decline. The findings of the San Francisco study demonstrate that the opposite is true, and the Bloomington City Council cannot ignore the findings, because the Bloomington flavored tobacco ban is virtually the same as San Francisco's ordinance.
Moreover, the study found that there is a correlation between a policy banning legal flavored tobacco products and an increase in youth smoking. It shows that the mere existence of a law banning flavored tobacco products is a factor that leads to higher youth smoking rates.
Passing this Bloomington ordinance was a mistake because a vast majority of underage youth rely on older friends, siblings, parents and even strangers to buy tobacco products for them. A ban will not prevent the underaged from substituting cigarettes for banned flavored vapor products. Young people are already resourceful about obtaining cigarettes, but the current historically low cigarette smoking rate among teenagers could actually go higher. It seems that kids want what they cannot have, and the message from Bloomington is that no one, including adults, can have flavored tobacco products.
It is still possible to prevent this dangerous trend of higher youth smoking from happening in Bloomington if the City Council takes the time to reconsider and repeal the flavored tobacco ban ordinance before it goes into effect in January. Otherwise, the mayor and other council members who voted for the ban will need to take full responsibility for more Bloomington youth smoking.
Steve Anderson owns Bobby and Steve's Auto World.