For over a year now, the Marion Board of Health has been pursuing a change in the flavored tobacco restriction bylaw to classify menthol cigarettes as ‘flavored’ tobacco, and on September 5, Dennis Lane of the Coalition for Responsible Retailing argued to the Marion Board of Selectmen that banning menthol would hurt retailers in Marion.
Lane, a retailer himself who travels throughout the state defending retailers’ rights to sell flavored tobacco products to legal-age buyers, compared the restriction of the sale of flavored tobacco products with the sale of flavored alcohol such as vodkas and rums, which have no special regulation.
“A flavored tobacco ban makes no sense,” said Lane. Banning flavored tobacco, and now menthol cigarettes, Lane said, will result in unintended consequences and harm local businesses.
Furthermore, he said, Marion has a 100% success rate for federal stings on tobacco sale – an argument in favor of trusting reliable retailers enough to keep tobacco products from being sold to Marion youths.
The legal age in Marion to sell and purchase tobacco is 21.
“I don’t go to many cities and towns that have a hundred-percent compliance,” said Lane. “That’s amazing.”
Lane’s arguments included the discrimination against minorities that Lane stated make up 88% of menthol cigarette smokers.
“By banning menthol, all you do is alienate the African American community,” said Lane. Smokers who purchase non-menthol cigarettes, Lane said, are predominantly white and would still be able to come to Marion to purchase their cigarettes while smokers of color would be excluded. “We believe that if you’re going to ban menthol tobacco, then ban it all.”
Lane addressed the argument that flavored tobacco manufacturing and marketing is aimed at luring young people to smoke, and asked why flavored tobacco should be regulated while flavored alcohol, which he said also targets young people, is not.
Lane called it a catch-22 that the sale of tobacco to minors is illegal but it is not illegal for minors to possess tobacco, while with alcohol the sale to minors is illegal and possession by a minor is also illegal.
“There’s a huge, huge variety of flavored alcohol, and there’s a huge variety of flavored tobacco, so I guess what we’re asking is for both products to be treated equally.”
Lane said he approached the Board of Selectmen for support in acquiring equal time before the Board of Health as groups that oppose flavored tobacco use. Lane charged the selectmen with not only protecting the residents of the Town of Marion but also the retailers of Marion.
Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson told Lane, “This board does not regulate the tobacco in the Town of Marion … and I would strongly suggest that you get onto [the Board of Health’s] agenda.”
Lane continued, “The retailers are going to be greatly impacted by this…. We’re (retailers) the gatekeepers; we’re the ones who protect your children from getting tobacco…. We don’t believe that there’s an advantage to banning menthol [or] to banning flavors.”
In other business, Planning Board member Jennifer Francis handed the selectmen a hard copy of the final draft of the Master Plan.
After three years of collaboration, amongst the Planning Board and a Master Plan subcommittee, as well as with the public during open forums, the draft will appear on the Town Meeting Warrant for voter approval.
“It’s not required,” Francis said, “But it will help the town feel like it’s their master plan, which it is.”
The Planning Board will present the draft to the public during its next meeting on September 18 at 7:00 pm at Sippican School, and again during a Saturday, October 14, public forum at 9:00 am, also at Sippican School.
An electronic copy is also available on the Town website.
On Thursday, September 14, at 1:30 pm at the Marion Town House, the selectmen will meet to hold two public interviews for position of police chief.
The next regular meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Tuesday, September 19, at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
By Jean Perry