The past year has been brutal for Arizona’s convenience stores. As the operator of ARCO stores throughout Phoenix, I’ve endured hardship after hardship as a result of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As an essential business, my employees and I have worked hard over the past several months providing my community with food, gasoline, household goods, and other necessities around the clock. But now, just as things feel like they might be getting better, the City Council is proposing legislation that will kick us while we’re down.
Lame duck City Council member Michael Nowakowski has decided that one of his last moves in office is to try and ban flavored tobacco products, including everything from vapes to wintergreen dip and menthol cigarettes. Assuming he’s doing this to combat illegal underage vaping, the intent of his proposal is admirable, but the approach is dangerously misguided.
Most everyone agrees that we need to address the problem of illegal teen vaping, but data suggests that banning a product outright doesn’t prevent young people from smoking or vaping. Data also shows that since the federal government recently raised the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21-years-old, youth smoking rates have declined.
My business takes pride in following the rule of the law. My staff and I are stringent when certifying an individual, through identification scanning and visual cues, who purchases a tobacco product is of legal age to purchase age-restricted products. As a business owner, who is also a member of the community where my ARCO stores are located, I want to keep adult products out of the hands of youths too. But small businesses like mine are not the problem when it comes to the youth vaping crisis.
What’s certain about a flavored tobacco ban is that it will be financially devastating to my industry and our city. Convenience stores, and other similar businesses, are seeing a decrease in revenue due to stay at home orders, while also experiencing rising costs from instituting new sanitation and safety measures to protect our customers.
My business does more than provide a home for my family and education for my kids, it provides my employees with a steady paycheck every month. Convenience stores are reliable, safe, and provide essential items at a market price to our customers. If my business revenue is cut when we are already suffering from a decrease in sales, it could mean my business closes indefinitely.
A prohibition on these adult products is shortsighted and has the potential to do irreversible economic harm that affects more than me, but also my employees and their families. If the Phoenix City Council votes to implement a flavored tobacco ban, it will only further decimate small, locally owned businesses that have struggled to stay afloat in recent months.
The City Council should be solely focused on policy that helps small businesses stay viable and recover after the coronavirus pandemic. I hope our local lawmakers, that we all elected, take time to consider all the consequences of banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol, before implementing it into law.
Bob Aujla is the owner of 12 ARCO stores located within the City of Phoenix.