Many convenience store owners across Massachusetts are protesting a potential statewide ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes. On Cape Cod, the ban could have a significant impact on immigrant-run small businesses.
At a Liquor N' More convenience store just off Route 28 in Bourne, owner Mohammed Abbas Sattar and his cousin, Haris Mian, were ticking off the number of cigarette brands they'd have to pull from their shelves if a menthol ban was passed. They counted more than seventeen.
"That's almost half of the rack right there," Mian said. "If we take that out, what are we going to sell, what are we going to do?"
Sattar immigrated from Pakistan about seven years ago to open this store in Bourne and another in Hyannis. He was worried the ban would make it hard to stay in business.
Health officials have said that menthol flavored cigarettes pose a health risk particularly to minors, as an early entry point to cigarette smoking, because menthol can mask the taste and burn of a regular tobacco cigarette. The bill that is currently being reviewed was sponsored by state senator John Keenan and was brought forth as a result of direct concerns he'd heard in his district of Salem.
But business owners like Andy Qayyam, owner of a 7-11 in Osterville, say their business is being unfairly regulated. Qayyam said he’s already been hurting since Barnstable banned flavored cigarettes over the summer and since the state banned vaping products in September.
"I am down by 300 customers average per day, and since the last three months, I am down 30 thousand dollars per month in my sales," Qayyam said. "I laid off two employees already. That’s our bread and butter, we are working hard."
He said cigarette and vape sales make up about 50 percent of his sales, and that without those key products, people will simply skip over visiting his store. A large number of the Cape’s 90 or so convenience stores are owned and operated by immigrant families, many from India and Pakistan.