WASHINGTON (WDVM) — The District of Columbia Council voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes. The Council voted 9-3-1 during the Tuesday, June 15, legislative session. Bars and restaurants that offer hookah will be exempt from the ban.
The bill still has to go through second reading and get the Mayor’s signature, and it is moving forward with many pieces of discussion left with the Council.
Originally, the bill focused on e-cigarettes and vapes, and was created in an effort to keep teenagers and kids from becoming addicted to smoking. Councilmembers who proposed the bill said that is still the focus.
Ward 3 Councilmember, Mary Cheh, said, “They’re going to hook the next generation on smoking, and if you think that is not happening, the data shows that it is. It’s getting more and more popular, and that’s why the flavors are so important to ban.”
Business owners who sell the flavored products are concerned over the impact the ban will have on their businesses.
Kirk McCauley, the Director of Government Affairs and Membership Relations with The Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association (WMDA), said, “Menthol is predominantly the favored cigarette there. To take that away is pretty harsh when they’ve already had probably the roughest year they’ve had in their life and are still struggling to get back on their feet.”
The District’s Chief Financial Officer estimates the ban will cost the city $13.9 million over the next four years, but McCauley thinks it will be much more than that. McCauley noted the high tax already in place on menthol cigarettes has led to a drop in revenue, as neighboring states Maryland and Virginia have much cheaper prices. He also noted that many people buy and sell cigarettes on the street, which is unregulated.
He said, “They’re going to lose out on the young people, too, because they’re just going to buy them out on the street. The retailer enforces 21. On the street, they don’t enforce anything. They just want their money.”
Council Chair Phil Mendelson was one of the no votes for the bill. He said, “This is not the right approach, for us to be prohibiting, creating other problems, collateral problems by taking this approach, and I think there are other approaches that can promote public health.”
McCauley added, “One of the major things it does, obviously it takes the choice away from adult smokers. And it seems kind of strange in a city where you can legally smoke marijuana and sell it but can’t buy a menthol cigarette, it’s kind of a strange situation there if this bill were to pass totally.”
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who voted neither in favor or against the bill, plans to fine tune the bill with committee before the second reading and final vote later this month. McCauley hopes to have discussion with councilmembers in order to change their minds on the proposed bill.