Attorneys for the gas station and convenience store owners say that the ordinance deprives new business owners of a substantial revenue stream.
A coalition of gas station and convenience store owners have filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County’s recent ban on tobacco sales near schools.
According to The St. Louis Post Dispatch, the companies’ complaint accuses the county of violating provisions of the Missouri Constitution by arbitrarily decreasing the value of their businesses. Each of the plaintiffs alleges that, deprived the opportunity to sell tobacco, their profits will decrease precipitously.
“The license to sell tobacco products at the properties in question constitutes a substantial component of the value,” the lawsuit states.
“A convenience store that cannot sell tobacco is worth a fraction of what the same store is worth if it can sell tobacco,” it adds.
The Post Dispatch notes that the ordinance, passed in 2019, bars St. Louis County from granting new tobacco licenses for businesses established within 1,000 feet of schools. It exempted existing businesses, at least until owners sold their properties.
While St. Louis County’s board tried to rescind the measure earlier this year, County Executive Sam Page vetoed the initiative.
Councilman Ernie Trakas, who sponsored the 2019 ordinance, has also since condemned the lawsuit.
“This represents greed and avarice and I’m pointing my finger at the petroleum industry, I’m pointing my finger at gas station owners when all they care about is maximizing their profit when they sell their business,” Trakas said.
In their complaint, the plaintiff businesses say that the county’s ordinance is irrelevant, as state law requires that they verify customers’ ages before selling any tobacco products.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that the 2019 ordinance likely affects about 164 gas stations throughout St. Louis County. They also note that St. Louis never offered any compensation to gas station owners whose profits may have been diminished by the effect of the new law.
“Plaintiffs acquired their respective business interests in properties engaged in the sale of tobacco products, and their licenses to sell tobacco at those properties before the effective date of the Ordinance,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs made substantial financial investments in their properties in reliance on the fact that the operations were licensed to sell tobacco products thereon. The license to sell tobacco coproducts at the properties in question constitutes a substantial component of the value of said properties.”
“The Ordinance has damaged Plaintiffs by significantly reducing the value of Plaintiffs’ properties by preventing transfer to an operator who could continue selling tobacco products,” it says, adding that, “The Ordinance constitutes an unlawful taking of Plaintiffs’ private property.”
Nevertheless, the St. Louis County Department of Health has defended the bill, saying that tobacco sales to underage users have increased in recent years. Many of these illicit sales purportedly occurred at businesses close to schools, especially those in predominately minority-majority neighborhoods.