In 2007, my husband Manoj Ghimire and I came to Windsor with the dream of opening a business that would sustain our small, but growing, family and provide a service to our community. Today, we own two convenience stores in the area; Fast and Easy Mart Windsor and Windsor Market #7. We sell essential items like toilet paper, soap, eggs, bread and milk. Our neighbors have come to depend on us and we're happy to be there for them. Even during the pandemic that has gripped our new home and the world, we have been proud to work through the struggle together.
Today, however, I worry. The Windsor Town Council is being swayed by groups who want to prohibit the sales of a product that keeps responsible businesses like mine operating and serving our neighbors. City leaders are considering banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. While this might seem like a good idea, it's important to consider recent research that shows when the city of San Francisco banned flavored tobacco, young people reduced their illegal use of e-cigarettes, but they were also twice as likely to pick up smoking. In other words, it had the opposite intended effect.
My husband and I are the parents of two boys. We have done our best to educate them about the impact of smoking and tobacco products on their health. Neither of them uses tobacco. While we sell tobacco products, we abide by the law and we only sell tobacco to people who are 21 years and older. Like all other tobacco licensed retailers in Windsor, we have a 100% percent compliance rate with age-verification laws already in place. Like our city leaders, we want to be sure to keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors. Still, and with no apparent reason, convenience store owners and tobacco retailers who obey the law are about to face an extremely harsh reality if the city council passes the ban. We will have to quickly sell off more than 20% of our inventory or throw it in the trash.
Tobacco products account for nearly 50% of our revenues. Not only will we lose the money we invested in these once-legal products, but we will also lose the sales of other products when our tobacco customers choose to take their business elsewhere. Adults who understand the risks of tobacco use, but still choose to enjoy them, will no longer be able to buy from our stores. But make no mistake, they will still get their tobacco. That's because tobacco is still legal in the United States. Instead of coming to our stores to buy an adult product, they will simply just go to Healdsburg or Santa Rosa where the sales of the same products will be sold. They may also go online or to the black market to buy these products from unlicensed sellers.
We employ four people in our Windsor stores. This may not seem like a lot of "job loss," but to me and my family and to the customers we serve, a flavored tobacco ban could mean an end to my business and their employment. Next year, California voters will have the chance to vote on a statewide flavored tobacco ban that could end the sales of flavored e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. Let's wait and see what they decide.
Understandably, our city leaders want to do their part to end our neighbors' use of tobacco. History has shown, however, that prohibition doesn't work and education does. Smoking is at historic lows across our country. Let's continue to invest in programs that teach people about the risks of traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and the options for less harmful products like e-cigarettes.
Retailers like me will continue to do our part — carding every customer to ensure they are of legal age to buy tobacco. Punishing law-abiding, licensed tobacco retailers makes no sense. A ban on the sales of flavored tobacco products won't stop people from getting them. It will, however, possibly put me and other responsible mom-and-pops out of business.
Pabitra Ghimire owns Fast and Easy Mart Windsor and Windsor Market #7 with her husband, Manoj Ghimire.