The number of tobacco shops in Minneapolis more than doubled after the sale of menthol products was banned in convenience stores in 2018, according to a report presented Thursday.
The report, presented to the City Council planning and zoning committee, comes as the council considers future tobacco restrictions once a one-year ban on the opening of such shops is lifted this summer.
In 2017, the council voted to restrict the sale of menthol tobacco products to tobacco shops and liquor stores, neither of which sell to minors. No longer allowed to sell a lucrative product, convenience store owners and others applied to open separate tobacco shops. The spike in applications prompted the council to issue a one-year moratorium on the approval of new licenses the following year.
Still, the number of tobacco shops increased from 25 to 52, according to the report. Many of those were convenience stores which split or added another room where tobacco could be sold to customers 21 and older.
Overall, the number of establishments that sold menthol products decreased from 354 to 82 because of the restrictions.
The city is considering several new policies to limit access to tobacco products. They include banning menthol sales in liquor stores, capping the number of tobacco licenses issued, setting spacing requirements between tobacco shops and enacting a citywide ban on menthol and flavored tobacco.
Council Member Cam Gordon said a combination of spacing — which is already done for liquor stores — and capping could work. He also flirted with the idea of limiting the sale of all tobacco products to adult-only stores.
LaTrisha Vetaw, the health policy and advocacy director at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in north Minneapolis and a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner, said it was “scary” to see the number of tobacco shops go up.
“These store owners are not only preying on these communities like the tobacco companies do, but they’re trying to make sure that they can continue to prey on them,” she said. “They don’t want to take these products away.”
New policies are expected to be voted on this summer, according to the report. The moratorium on the approval of new tobacco licenses ends Aug. 31.