Opinion: Flavored tobacco ban would hurt businesses
Feb 16, 2021: The Bridgeport City Council was planning to introduce an ordinance Tuesday that bans the sales of flavored tobacco products in the city in an effort to keep kids from getting hooked on tobacco.
City Council President Aidee Nieves said she hopes a similar ban becomes state law.
I am a local business owner who sells tobacco products. You don’t have to like tobacco. I don’t, but I can proudly say that I am on the same side as officials when it comes to keeping e-cigs and cigarettes out of the hands of minors. As a father of four children and as an employer of 10 Bridgeport residents whose livelihoods depend on my stores staying open for business, I take age verification laws seriously.
Bridgeport has been my home since 2005. I’ve been lucky enough to own a convenience store here for 16 years, and just last year, I opened a second location. Just like I wouldn’t want my kids using tobacco products, I do everything I can to prevent other people’s kids from getting their hands on these products. If an employee were to sell tobacco to a minor, I would fire them on the spot. That is my policy, and I believe it is the same for other store owners in my industry. We’re not the enemy of officials. We’re on the same team.
Like most convenience store owners, 45 percent of my revenues come from tobacco product sales to adult customers, not minors. Of those revenues, 75 percent come from flavored tobacco sales. That revenue is used to stock shelves with grocery items and pay my employees’ wages — mothers and fathers, like me, whose families rely on them. The Bridgeport community has also been able to count on me. Because of my business’ success, I was able to work with the Bridgeport Police Department to host an exotic car rally recently at my store. We raised enough money to donate 250 turkeys and 200 pounds of fruits and vegetables to local families.
I’ve devoted my life to this city and this business. Imagine you are me, and despite doing nothing wrong, your entire life’s work could be destroyed with the vote of a single council member. If a store gets caught selling products to minors consistently, then take away their tobacco retailer’s license. If an e-cig company is caught marketing to youth, then ban just that product, but banning hundreds of products because of a few bad actors doesn’t add up.
If officials ban the sales of flavored tobacco in Bridgeport and across the state, people aren’t just going to stop smoking flavored cigarettes or vaping. They’re just going to get these products from the black market or go to another city or state and bring them home. Officials should clamp down on the illicit market and social sources that sell to minors. Invest in smoking cessation programs and education programs that we know are working to bring smoking to all-time historic lows among teens. The Bridgeport City Council shouldn’t punish responsible, law-abiding businesses. After all, we’re on the front line, too, and fighting the same fight.