Why Bloomington’s ban on flavored tobacco won’t work

On April 26, the Bloomington city council voted to fully ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city, beginning January 2022. The city has also decided to end the provision of tobacco licenses beginning June 2022. This is all in an effort to reduce tobacco use in the city.

As reported by the Star Tribune,

The city of Bloomington, already a leader on tobacco regulation in Minnesota, is looking to phase out the sale of tobacco products within city limits altogether.

The City Council voted Monday to end the sale of flavored tobacco products beginning in January 2022, while also setting a sunset on all tobacco licenses beginning in June 2022. At that time, when a store with a tobacco license closes, that license will expire and will not be replaced.

Acting Public Health Administrator Nick Kelley said the sunset would eliminate the presence of tobacco in the city and the risk of tobacco use among youth. He said only two cities in California have passed similar laws on tobacco licenses.

“We would be the first here in Minnesota to go down that road,” he said. “Eventually this would result in Bloomington not having tobacco retailers at some point in the future — it will take several years for that to occur.”

As we have shown in our recent report, it is highly unlikely that these new rules will reduce tobacco use. And to the extent that tobacco use decreases following the new rules, it will be at a smaller margin. In 2018, for example, when the city of Duluth restricted the sale of flavored tobacco to adult-only smoke shops –– stores that only sell to individuals 18 or older ––, numerous changes were observed, none of which were a reduction in tobacco use.

For one, the sale of other non-flavored tobacco products increased in restricted stores. Overall, there was a 4.9 percent increase in non-menthol cigarette sales, with restricted sales seeing a disproportionately higher increase in the sales of menthol.

This means that smokers merely switched from flavored cigarettes like menthol to non-flavored cigarettes. And additionally, the sale of flavored tobacco increased in stores that were not restricted meaning that people just bought their flavored cigarettes elsewhere. To expect a ban on flavored tobacco to affect tobacco use in Bloomington would be illogical.

Bloomington is surrounded by other cities in Minnesota that have no such restrictions. Smokers have no reason not to flock to other areas of Minnesota to purchase flavored tobacco. And more importantly, such a ban makes it lucrative for underground entities to transport tobacco products to Bloomington to sell in the black market.