The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have been felt across all industries, but the retail industry is especially hurting. We at the American Petroleum and Convenience Store Association (APCA) know firsthand the impacts that is having because we hear of the struggles of our member stores daily. So, why is it that the California Legislature is considering banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, the revenue from which our stores have come to rely upon even before the coronavirus pandemic hit?

Tobacco is one of the few categories allowing our stores to keep their doors open due to catastrophically low sales on gasoline and prepared foods. However, in-store sales are down by about 15 percent and furthermore, tobacco sales make up 36 percent of convenience store inside sales. Taking away tobacco revenue would shutter many of our members’ doors.

What’s more, as of mid-July, jobless claims in California have risen to the highest levels in two months as the state begins to shelter-in-place again. Since mid-March, the Employment Development Department (EDD) has paid out $45.6 billion in unemployment benefits, according to the state labor agency. Since, the state is shutting down again, places of business such as salons and restaurants that were just reopening and rehiring their workers are now having to let them go again. 

The only stores not shutting their doors are convenience stores and gas stations. Their doors remain open to serve their communities, operating as essential businesses. Their employees remain on the frontlines with a guaranteed paycheck each week. However, if this Senate Bill 973 (SB 793) is enacted, you would be taking away good paying jobs from hardworking employees who’ve done nothing but show up to work since the pandemic began. 

At the APCA we completely understand the importance of curbing the youth vaping epidemic, however we don’t believe that a statewide tobacco flavor ban is the solution. Our state has a 95% compliance rate for age-restricted sales at convenience stores, according to the FDA. The data shows that California retailers are successful at enforcing the law, which is why we cannot fathom a statewide flavor ban that would significantly diminish revenue, both to our stores and to the state. By banning the sale of these products, the Legislature would be doing the exact opposite of what it hopes to achieve because SB 793 would push these products to an unregulated and dangerous black market where youth accessibility would be high. 

What’s more, since store owners enforce strict ID checks and do not sell tobacco products to customers who are not of age, a ban like this only hurts the customers who are purchasing these products legally. It’s been proven time and time again that those who are underage are not attracted to menthol products and this restriction only hurts adult customers who exercise their right to smoke whatever flavor cigarettes they choose.  

Most importantly, convenience stores and gas stations don’t just sell tobacco products; they also sell groceries and other goods that serve the varying needs of the communities they serve, many of whom may not have access to grocery stores. Imposing restrictions on the sale of these tobacco products will also have an impact on the purchases of other goods at these stores, which supplement their revenue and allow them to retain employees. 

If California bans flavored tobacco products the state would incur a $675 million loss in excise taxes, which support the general fund and critical wellbeing programs that benefit our state’s most vulnerable populations. 

The bottom line is that SB 793 would significantly harm California’s convenience stores and small retailers who are working tirelessly to keep shelves stocked, workers employed and the lights on to serve their communities as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Small businesses, like the members of APCA, should be supported by our state legislature not singled out and punished for selling legal products.