Washington, D.C., Nears Ban on Menthol and Flavored Tobacco

After initial approval, the city council is slated to take a final vote on the bill next week.

June 22, 2021

Cigarettes

WASHINGTON—The District of Columbia Council last week voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, reports LocalDVM.com. However, bars and restaurants that sell hookah products for on-site consumption will be exempt under the bill’s current language.

The bill must go through a second reading, and a final vote is expected on June 29 before it heads to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval. The Flavored Tobacco Product Prohibition Amendment Act of 2021 eliminates the sale of all flavored tobacco products and prohibits the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes within a quarter-mile of middle and high schools, WTOP News reports.

Business owners who sell flavored tobacco products are concerned over the impact the ban will have on their businesses.

“Menthol is predominantly the favored cigarette there,” said Kirk McCauley, director of government affairs and membership relations with The Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association. “To take that away is pretty harsh when [the retailers] already had probably the roughest year they’ve had in their life and are still struggling to get back on their feet.”

District officials believe the ban will cost the city $13.9 million over the next four years, but McCauley predicts it will be much more. He noted the high tax already in place on menthol cigarettes has led to a drop in revenue, as neighboring states Maryland and Virginia sell the products for less. He added that many people buy and sell cigarettes on the street, a practice that is unregulated.

“They’re going to lose out on the young people, too, because they’re just going to buy them out on the street,” he said. “The retailer enforces 21. On the street, they don’t enforce anything. They just want their money.”

Council Chair Phil Mendelson voted against the ban. “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,” he said.

“Obviously, it takes the choice away from adult smokers,” said McCauley, who hopes to discuss the issue with council members and possibly change their minds. “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.”

In April, NACS Daily reported that the FDA plans to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes within the next year and prohibit all flavors—including menthol—in cigars.

To read more about NACS’ federal advocacy efforts related to tobacco sales, visit our Tobacco Advocacy page.

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