Mpls. city council proposes restrictions on menthol cigarette sales

Minneapolis City Council members heard passionate testimony from residents as they consider whether to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes. The proposal would add menthol to the list of other flavored tobacco products that can only be sold in adults-only smoke shops.

Supporters of the restrictions claim tobacco companies disproportionately market menthol products to minority and low-income communities and cite research that shows menthol cigarettes lead users to report greater nicotine dependence.

“Don’t believe the hype. The tobacco industry would like you to believe that these things are cool and refreshing and it’s your choice,” said Dr. Phil Gardiner with the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

“Conversely, I would suggest to you that menthol and other flavors essentially allow poison to go down easier.”

But some corner owners, particularly those in North Minneapolis, said the proposed restrictions could put them out of business. 

“Almost 80 percent of sales is tobacco, 75 percent of the tobacco sales is in menthol,” said Ahmad Hawari, who owns Penn-Wood Market. “This would be a huge financial loss to us.”

To address those concerns, Council Member Cam Gordon proposed delaying implementation of the new rules until August 2018. He also wants to direct city staff to assist business owners in the transition.

The council’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement committee will take up the issue again next week. The full City Council would have to vote to approve the changes before they would take effect.