MOUND — The Mound City Council is considering an ordinance to take over control of tobacco licensing, regulations and enforcement within city limits.
The City Council at its July 9 meeting voted to direct staff to draft an ordinance for licensing, regulation and enforcement of tobacco sales within the city of Mound. Currently, the city does not have an ordinance that regulates this, so Hennepin County oversees licensing, regulation and enforcement of tobacco sales on behalf of the city.
The potential city ordinance comes as the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners on July 9 voted to amend the county’s tobacco sales ordinance in hopes of preventing younger Minnesotans from the health effects associated with using tobacco products. The ordinance will raise the minimum age people are allowed to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, among other tobacco-related policy changes such as restricting the sale of tobacco products to adult-only tobacco stores and prohibiting the sale of cigars costing less than $3 each.
These new policy changes will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, for the five entities that do not currently have their own tobacco regulations — Mound (unless it passes an ordinance), St. Bonifacius, Greenfield, Rogers and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Mound City Council member Jeff Bergquist brought up Mound taking control of tobacco regulations to the council at the July 9 meeting, stressing that raising the age to buy tobacco to 21 in Mound won’t prevent 18, 19 and 20 year olds from driving to neighboring Orono, Spring Park or Carver or Wright counties to buy tobacco, where they will also likely buy other things, such as snacks, drinks and gas.
Bergquist said raising the minimum age to 21 would take business away from local stores.
“I do not smoke nor do I own a business. I do have an 18-year-old son that smokes, and I agree that 21 is a good idea, but I believe the law needs to change at a state level,” Bergquist said during the council meeting.
Raising the age to buy tobacco to 21 statewide, instead of by city or county, would put all businesses on a level playing field, he explained.
“I don’t want to see another business close up in this town,” Bergquist added.
Mayor Ray Salazar stressed there are pluses and minuses to increasing the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, but said when someone turns 18 they are considered a legal adult — they can go into the military and go to war — and should be able to buy cigarettes if they so desire.
Changing the minimum age is a “feel good thing,” Salazar said, adding “it’s not going to change anything” because 18-20 year olds will drive down the street to buy tobacco.
City Council member Paula Larson made it clear she hates cigarettes during the council meeting, but said what is more terrifying is having the government tell people what they’re supposed to do with their health.
“If we continue to let the government interfere with choices of our own personal health” then it could lead to the government controlling other things, such as making it more difficult for people to buy things like sugary drinks and snacks, Larson said, reiterating that governments should “let the consumer decide.”
If the City Council passes an ordinance to take control of tobacco regulations within Mound, the age to buy tobacco would stay at 18 — a regulation that is outlined in state law. The city would then be responsible for everything associated with regulating tobacco sales, including compliance checks, enforcement and licensing.
City Council member Phil Velsor asked where the money would come from to pay for this, to which City Manager Eric Hoversten said licensing fees would cover the administrative costs, similar to what’s done with liquor licenses. The cost burden would not fall to the taxpayers.
The City Council passed the resolution to direct city staff to draft a tobacco regulation ordinance, with only Sherrie Pugh voting against. Prior to the vote, she said the city should not help support the tobacco industry, which has formed such an addictive drug that teenagers are getting hooked on before being old enough to buy tobacco.
Hoversten told Lakeshore Weekly News via email on Aug. 5 that the city has heard interest in this issue from trade groups that represent local retailers, as well as health advocates that operate in the area. “We have not heard any specific feedback from residents on the issue,” he added.
The city still has to actually approve an ordinance that would allow it to take control of tobacco-sales regulations. City staff will review ordinances nearby cities have enacted “so that we achieve the consistency among neighboring communities that the council indicated it desired,” Hoversten said in the email.
Once the proposed ordinance is written, it will be posted for a minimum of 10 days before the City Council considers it, he added.
The city “will have our ordinance language in place” prior to the county’s Jan. 1, 2020, implementation of its Ordinance 21 “to ensure seamless licensing of the retail activities,” Hoversten said in the email.
Tobacco policies in Minnesota
Hennepin County is the 39th city or county in Minnesota to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, and is the ninth community in the state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products to adult-only stores, a July 9 news release from Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of organizations that have the goal of reducing youth smoking, said.
Within Hennepin County, several cities have Tobacco 21 policies, including Excelsior, Minnetonka and Plymouth, according to ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit that is funded by money that tobacco companies pay to the state.
Hennepin County’s vote comes as tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping continue to be in the spotlight, both locally and nationally. The state legislature amended the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices indoors. Nationally, the U.S. House Oversight Committee held hearings in July to examine e-cigarette manufacturer Juul’s role in the youth nicotine epidemic, a word used by the U.S. Surgeon General and by anti-smoking advocates.
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation says raising the tobacco-buying age to 21 helps reduce access youths have to tobacco products and can help prevent addiction since nearly 95% of adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21.
The National Academy of Medicine estimates that Tobacco 21 would reduce smoking among 15 to 17 year olds by 25%.
The push for a higher purchasing age comes as e-cigarettes threaten a decades-long downward trend in smoking rates, particularly among young people. In 2017, 26.4% of Minnesotan high school students had used a tobacco product in the past 30 days, up 7% from 2014, according to the most recent survey data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
For e-cigarettes, the upward trend among high school students is steeper:
- 19.2% had used or tried e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, up 49% from 2014.
- 37.7% have ever tried e-cigarettes, up 33% from 2014.
- 63.6% of students who currently use e-cigarettes reported using menthol or other flavored e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
- 21.5% of current e-cigarette users have never tried any conventional tobacco product.
- 62.4% of high school and 57.4% of middle school e-cigarette users got their e-cigarettes from friends.
Reporter Eden Teller contributed to this report.