“We are not naive about tobacco, just as we are not about marijuana, or alcohol and their impact on our communities, but facts matter.”
As reporter Barry Thompson wrote for DigBoston last year:
The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association is fighting what’s amounted to a costly Menthol ban for them, while civil liberties groups including the ACLU and the Center for Popular Democracy knocked the new Commonwealth law as bigoted. As the alliance wrote in a February letter to members of Congress: “With a criminal legal system that incarcerates Blacks at nearly six times the rate of white Americans and a prison population that is 67% Black and Latinx, any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over- criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color.”
The US Food and Drug Administration proposed a nationwide menthol ban in 2018, and similar initiatives have made the rounds in other cities and states. Neill Franklin, a retired 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police, is the executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
LEAP has stomped on menthol bans in their various permutations, largely out of concerns that they will forge unregulated, underground markets that may broaden and replicate conditions associated with the demonstrably failed war on drugs.
As most of the direct sales and distribution of illegal menthols would be handled by children, Franklin said, these circumstances make it much easier, not harder, for young people to acquire menthols. Plus, as civil liberties advocates noted, there are also significant worries about giving police a new reason—or excuse, as may be the case—to approach Black people.
Now that a year has passed since the ban was put in place, the convenience store owners are back and ramping up their fight to spur a reversal. This time, they have statistics from the past 12 months to back up their claims, and sent the following letter to everyone vying to be the next mayor of Boston to show they mean business:
Dear Boston Mayoral Candidates,
For the first time in history, the entire field of mayoral candidates identify as people of color, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we, as business people of color, care deeply about our neighborhoods.
Consequently, we want to make sure you fully grasp the inherently failed, racist nature of the City of Boston and the state’s criminalization of menthol tobacco and the counterintuitive, negative impacts the law has on the public health in Boston and around the Commonwealth.
Ultimately, we ask each of you to meet with us so that we may learn about your views on issues that matter to our members and the community. In the meantime, we want to share with you this video we released on our Facebook page this week: BCSOA Facebook Page.
We don’t need to tell you there are many public health and safety issues in our community. Tobacco use by consenting adults is way down our list of concerns, but it seems to be a priority above all others for some.
We are not naive about tobacco, just as we are not about marijuana, or alcohol and their impact on our communities, but facts matter. The failed War on Drugs resulted in the legalization of marijuana. Alcohol sales were deemed essential during the pandemic. Yet the failures of the criminalization of menthol sales one year ago are seemingly ignored. This must change.
Sales volume for all tobacco products in the Northeast have remained consistent since the enactment of the menthol ban one year ago. Eighty eight percent of the menthol tobacco that was sold in Massachusetts has simply migrated to New Hampshire, Rhode Island and surrounding states. Meanwhile the difference is being made up by a rapidly growing, illicit trade for menthol products. Colored consumers who aren’t traveling to nearby states or buying from their local, illegal sources are simply transitioning to non-mentholated tobacco products.
Nobody has stopped smoking. Now, kids have widely available access to menthol on the unregulated streets. And, the state has lost upwards of $140 million in tax and excise revenue – money that could be dedicated to tangibly improve higher priority public health issues in our communities which have been historically underserved.
We are not apologetic for selling tobacco – a highly regulated, and taxed adult product – any more than local marijuana or alcohol retailers are for selling their age restricted products. The irony that marijuana, a product that was used to send countless colored men to prison, is now wrapped in the image of a health product, and that alcohol, which we all know does more harm in our communities than tobacco gets a free pass, or that both these products come in the very same flavors that are now illegal for nicotine products.
It’s not lost on us that the marijuana industry has kept our people at arms-length, despite promises when the law was passed about us sharing in the windfall of profits. Meanwhile the menthol law further decreased the viability of minority owned, small businesses in Boston by sending massive revenue to our cross-border competitors. Once again, people of color are systematically marginalized under the false flag of public good.
Making matters worse, the current menthol law preempts the sale of products that the Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing for designation as Modified Risk Tobacco Products, that will have been deemed to have significant benefit to public health over current combustible products.
This seems like a good time for you, as candidates seeking to serve the City of Boston to see through the myths, misinformation, half-truths, and white lies perpetuated by anti-tobacco crusaders. We hope and expect that the new Mayor will have the courage to do something real to help our businesses and our communities. Rest assured, we and our members will be paying close attention to this race and will support those who support reasonable public policies that don’t contribute to the systematic racism we endure every day.
We will be contacting your campaign team to set up a time to meet face to face.
Boston Convenience Store Owners Association
You can watch the BCSOA: White Lies Video here