John Elkhatib has been operating a convenience store in South Attleboro near the Rhode Island border for 25 years.
But Thursday, he had to have a serious conversation with his employees.
He told them that if a bill banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, goes into effect, he may have to close down.
The state, he said, has been steadily making life more difficult for small, independent convenience stores that derive much of their income from tobacco.
Gov. Charlie Baker recently imposed a moratorium on vaping products after scattered deaths among young people in Massachusetts and across the country.
Now, the House has voted to ban all types of tobacco products that are flavored and approved a 75 percent tax on vaping items. The Senate is considering doing the same.
Elkhatib said Newport cigarettes, which are flavored with menthol, are his second biggest seller and he doesn’t know if he can survive without the revenue they bring.
“They are killing the small businesses like me. They’re targeting us really,” he said, referring to government officials.
The state and city don’t seem to care about small businesses, Elkhatib said.
“I’m part of the community. I pay taxes. People come in here, I know their name. I know their kids,” he said.
Large chain stores like Cumberland Farms will do fine, he said, because they sell gasoline and other products.
There is no secret to what Elkhatib relies on for income. He depends heavily on lottery tickets, cigarettes, beer and wine.
A short ride from Pawtucket, his store on Route 1 is called Border Bets and Butts.
“People are going to drive one mile down the road and they can get whatever they want,” he said of his proximity to stores in Rhode Island.
But, while small store owners such as Elkhatib are strongly opposed to the ban, groups interested in public health issues applaud it.
“(On Wednesday) the Massachusetts House voted to disarm one of Big Tobacco’s most dangerous weapons: flavored tobacco products,” Marc Hymovitz, Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a press release.
“While Massachusetts has long been at the forefront in this area, we are poised to lead the nation by passing legislation that would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, keeping these deadly products out of the hands of our kids,” he said.
The network and other health groups said tobacco companies use flavored products to lure young people into smoking, which gets them hooked.
But Rosie Fournier at Stateline Smoke Shop in Seekonk said people should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to smoke and what they smoke.
She said she likes Newport cigarettes, which are flavored with menthol, and knows what the risks are.
“I think the ban is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t need anyone dictating whether we can smoke.”
She said business is already down at the shop and the loss of flavored products will hurt more.
However, she said she expects Rhode Island to follow suit with a similar ban so business will not be going over the border.
“Rhode Island follows everything Massachusetts does,” she said.