Minneapolis City Council considers response to proliferation of tobacco shops

[This local news coverage made possible by readers like you.]

Following menthol cigarette restrictions approved by the Minneapolis City Council in August 2017, the number of stores selling menthol cigarettes decreased from 354 to 82. This is according to a staff presentation to the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee last week.

The city’s updated flavored tobacco ordinance, which took effect in 2018, restricted availability of menthol products to tobacco shops and off-sale liquor stores. According to the city, “These changes are to prevent youth tobacco use, lifelong addiction to nicotine, the negative health effects of tobacco use and the tobacco-related health disparities between white populations and people of color.”

But as a result of these restrictions — with convenience stores looking to recover a lost profit center — the number of tobacco shops in Minneapolis increased from 25 to 52.

A dozen convenience stores came to the planning department with requests for rezoning or conditional use permits that would allow them to open new tobacco shops. Eight requests were approved to split stores: with an existing convenience store on one side, new tobacco shop on the other. Some stores responded to the ordinance by discontinuing the sale of all other products, so they could focus on tobacco exclusively and continue to sell menthol cigarettes.

Last August the City Council enacted a one year moratorium to halt the proliferation of tobacco shops and consider a policy response.

In an assessment of stores that split off a separate tobacco shop, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN found that the menthol restriction resulted in more menthol advertising in those stores. This was because stores wanted to make it clear to customers they were still able to sell menthol.

The final results of the tobacco shop study will be presented to the City Council in June. The council would then consider a number of policy options for how to handle the regulation of tobacco shops once the year-long moratorium has ended.

Among the options being considered:

  • Extend menthol sales restriction to include liquor stores
  • Ban all sales of flavored and menthol tobacco products citywide
  • Encourage similar bans in nearby cities and the state
  • Cap the number of tobacco products shops
  • Create a minimum spacing requirement between tobacco products shops