First, let me thank you for consistently covering the Marion Board of Health’s (BOH) proposal to expand tobacco regulations, including the banning of flavored products like menthol cigarettes to adults while, at the same time, leaving non-menthol/non-flavored cigarettes for sale. The adult public needs to know that their rights are in jeopardy and that the BOH is proposing regulations that treat some adults differently than others.
CRR wants to make you aware that we will be reaching out to adults in Marion to directly engage them in the conversation that has been underway at the BOH for over a year. A direct mail piece will be sent to adult Marion residents, asking them to tell the BOH about their concern for losing their rights on what could be a very slippery slope for all adult decision making. CRR believes that the age-of-majority is a critical legal and social concept in our state and our democracy. We also believe that there are standards for treating legal, adult-only products, and that those standards should apply equally to all legal products with similar health profiles. In addition to the mailing, there will also be an online petition for gathering signatures and information placed in social media. For a community that recently voted to legalize marijuana, CRR believes adults in Marion need to fully understand the threat to their rights and the BOH must hear more directly from the community.
We also wish to note that CRR did not bring up the “race card” as some BOH members have suggested in your paper. Rather, the BOH did so when they proposed their regulations which treat consumers differently based on their product preference. CRR does find it disturbing, as testimony from others have pointed out in public hearings, that the BOH seeks to isolate products preferred by minorities and the LGBTQ community while they preserve nearly identical products used predominantly by the white community.
While the BOH claims they do not intend to segregate consumers, they are indeed doing so. Furthermore, comments attempting to dismiss the social and racial implications of the proposed regulations from individuals like Chris Bathin, director of the Tobacco Control Resource Center at the Public Health Institute, openly recognize that the BOH proposals do not address tobacco possession (and thereby do nothing to keep minors who possess cigarettes from using them). Mr. Bathin tries to minimize the experience-based reality presented by minority law enforcement at the public hearings while he also fails to acknowledge the subtle fact that a ban on minority preferred products implicitly tell those consumers that they are not welcome to shop in Marion stores – a fact we as retailers find troubling. Consequently, CRR feels compelled to reiterate that we welcome and serve ALL who come into our shops, and we will do all we can to offer them the products they seek.
While we applaud the desire to make fully informed decisions, CRR sincerely hopes that the BOH will soon recognize that the longer they drag out their decision making on their proposed tobacco regulations, the more they create an unpredictable environment that harms a retailer’s ability to serve the community. We believe it would be much more effective to work with retailers to educate the entire community about tobacco, rather than penalize adults, and we stand ready to help with that process. With the 100% compliance rate maintained by local retailers for all tobacco regulations over the last five years, one would think retailers have proven themselves to be worthy partners when it comes to the desire to prevent minors from accessing tobacco while preserving adults’ rights. Now it’s the BOH’s turn.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any additional questions.
Dennis Lane, Executive Director
Coalition for Responsible Retailing
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