Here’s a short list of things irascible Granite Staters can agree on: The brilliance of Bill Belichick, the need for a light government touch when it comes to regulating personal preferences, and the grit and glory of our family-owned businesses.
The Biden-Harris administration is putting all three of those things at risk.
Okay, maybe not the brilliance of Bill Belichick, but I’ve got your attention now, don’t I?
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes. I don’t have to go back to the Roaring 20s to illustrate how prohibiting certain behaviors harms businesses that sell consumer products without improving public health.
In an effort to improve sustainability, about a decade ago, several dozen U.S. colleges and universities banned the sale of bottled water.
I get it — few consumer items are as reviled as one-time-use plastic bottles — but the ban ended up harming students. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health concluded bottled water consumption declined while sales of sugary sodas skyrocketed.
Good intentions can lead to bad outcomes.
No one knows that better than Massachusetts convenience store owners. In 2019, state lawmakers voted to ban menthol cigarettes. The prohibition took effect in 2020.
Good intentions led to bad outcomes.
Smoking rates did not decline, and Massachusetts lost a substantial amount of tax revenue that lawmakers could have used to bolster school budgets, build affordable housing, or even launch a public health campaign regarding the dangers of vaping. (After all, federal data show teens’ use of illegal disposable e-cigarettes is skyrocketing while smoking rates are declining.)
The results of the Bay State ban were so terrible that, in 2021, two lawmakers — a Republican and a Democrat — filed legislation to overturn the ban.
Massachusetts not only lost tax revenues. There is actually evidence showing its ban may have increased overall cigarette sales. A study by a Case Western Reserve University researcher found there were 29.96 million fewer cigarette packs sold in Massachusetts in the year after the menthol ban went into effect. In counties that bordered Massachusetts, however, sales of cigarette packs rose by 33.36 million.
That is a net increase of 3.4 million packs. Reports of illicit market flavored tobacco sales also increased in Massachusetts.
Sandri Companies operates five retail outposts in Massachusetts and three in New Hampshire. We witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of banning menthol. Prohibition does not work. Like the college students who shifted from drinking water to a potentially less-healthy beverage, most consumers will just “quench their thirst” by purchasing a different product or, worse, turning to the illicit market.
The diminished foot traffic in Massachusetts convenience stores probably led to other sales declines, too. Rare is the patron who stops in for a single product. Consumers likely took their fuel, snack, and, yes, bottled water sales elsewhere too. The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association told Massachusetts lawmakers the ban “failed in whatever goals it had intended,” noting it was particularly difficult for Bay State convenience store owners to watch sales go elsewhere “when the state cannot demonstrate evidence of any positive health-related impact.”
In New Hampshire, 85 percent of businesses are family-owned. U.S. family-owned businesses are responsible for more than three-quarters of all new job growth. Yet only 30 percent of these businesses survive into the second generation. Only 14 percent make it to the third.
Well-meaning regulations that lead to disastrous consequences are one reason it is difficult to survive.
Granite Staters prioritize personal liberty and freedom to make informed decisions. A federal menthol ban would strip them of those rights, and history proves it won’t solve smoking issues. The Biden-Harris administration should acknowledge and learn from Massachusetts’ failure. Instead of pursuing a misguided menthol ban, President Joe Biden should offer evidence-based solutions that will improve public health while safeguarding small businesses and citizens’ personal freedoms.