Tobacco Product Standard for Menthol in Cigarettes
Dear Robert M. Califf and FDA Members,
We, the undersigned members of the Korean American Grocers Association (KAGRO) International, are writing to request that you do not move forward with the proposed menthol ban.
KAGRO International is a global organization dedicated to furthering the interests of the grocers and food distributors of Korean descent around the world. We were founded in 1989, by two groups (chapters) of grocers located in California and Philadelphia who collaborated to form KAGRO International. By 1991, six additional chapters (Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, New York, Seattle, and Washington D.C.) were included within KAGRO International. Now we proudly represent twenty-nine (29) chapters across the North American hemisphere, comprised of roughly 25,000 members, with purchasing revenue of roughly $30 billion. Twenty-one (21) of KAGRO international chapters are in the United States.
We have an important role in the Korean grocers and food distributors community. We provide essential support, including educational business seminars, small and medium business incubator programs, and opportunities for partnership assistance for our members, their families, and friends.
KAGRO International works with our chapters to provide support to community through our scholarship and mentorship programs, our chapters support the next generation of college-bound leaders in our communities. Each year over $300,000 of scholarship funds are provided to 29 chapters throughout North America. Nominations for scholarships are directly linked to community involvement.
KAGRO International stores are a very important part of the communities they serve. Across the United States, our stores provide unique services and products depending on the needs of their community. During the pandemic our member stores were identified as essential businesses, and they are still essential. Our member stores are small grocery stores, large grocery supermarkets, fresh fruit stands, delis, gas stations, liquor stores, and convenience stores.
Our members are first and second-generation Americans who have achieved their American dream. Our members are very proud of the family businesses that they own and operate across the United States of America. We are from families and we have learned from our families and friends. KAGRO members work hard to follow all the laws and take pride in our strong compliance with federal, state, and local laws. We take our responsibilities to care for the community very seriously. We partner with and donate to police departments, neighborhood associations, fire departments, and schools. We also donate food and other items to low-income communities. We live here, and the communities we do business in are our neighbors. All our chapters follow this model and support our neighbors.
With tobacco sales, we take our responsibilities very seriously. We always follow the rules, and we work closely with the police and local groups to ensure that we are protecting our youth and to make sure that only adults 21+ can purchase tobacco. Our members check ID every time they sell tobacco or alcohol, and many of our members have upgraded their stores to enable them to scan ID when they sell age restricted products.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, youth cigarette smoking is the lowest in a generation (1.3%) and youth menthol cigarette use is the lowest in a generation (0.8%). The data clearly demonstrates that retailers put a strong emphasis on doing the right thing. We are the first line of defense, and our efforts are working. Youth usage is at historic lows, including use of menthol cigarettes. The current system of licensed retailers, strong minimum age laws, and government oversight is working.
Due to the high prices in New York, local flavor bans in some California cities, and the Massachusetts state flavor ban our members are seeing the negative impacts black-market sales of tobacco have on their communities. Our members in these areas experience cigarettes being sold on the street by people who don’t check ID or worry about the local and state laws. Black-market sellers do not care for the community, and do not take the steps to protect our youth the way our member stores do.
In addition to the negative impact that banning these products would have on our communities, there would also be very negative impacts on our members’ ability to do business. Menthol cigarettes are an important item in our member stores. Our member stores sell more than 8 million packs of menthol cigarettes each week. In these transactions our customers buy other items including milk, soda, beer, and snacks. These transactions are important to our member stores, and account for more than 160 million dollars in weekly revenue.
We are very disappointed that the FDA is considering taking menthol cigarettes out of the regulated market, where retailers play an integral role in preventing sales to underage purchases. The effects of this ban will be to drive sales of menthol cigarettes into the black-market, as we have seen in New York, California, and Massachusetts. Black-market sellers will not check ID, will not refuse sales, will not pay taxes, and will not provide good jobs that help support families across America like our stores do. Please let our member stores continue to be the first line of defense when it comes to preventing kids from purchasing tobacco products.
We ask that the FDA not move forward with the proposed menthol ban. The data does not support a ban. There are better options to continue to strengthen the successes of the regulated market, like education, cessation support, and underage usage prevention.
Thank you for your consideration.
Ju Han Kim