After a request for a tobacco retailer license within the city limits of Prior Lake was received by the city council late last year, the council has been discussing a proposed ban on flavored vaping materials.
At a Feb. 16 meeting, a public hearing was held and the council further considered factors that may be included or exempt from the proposed ban.
A number of public figures including Scott County District Judge Chris Wilton, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Board Member Mary Frantz, PLSAS Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch, Scott County Commissioner Dave Beer, area doctors and educators, and two Prior Lake High School students spoke out in favor of the ban noting their concern for vaping on the health of local youth.
Among them was Jayme Carlson of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership at Scott County Public Health who stated that the ongoing pandemic demonstrates the need for public health policies to improve lung function and reduce addiction. She added that students are turning to vape products to cope with mental health problems resulting from the pandemic.
“Local restrictions on flavored tobacco products have shown that these policies limit availability and reduce the chance that youth will ever try tobacco products,” Carlson said.
Prior Lake business owner, educator and mother Katie Moras noted the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey during her testimony which showed that within 30 days of the survey, 28.7% of Prior Lake 11th graders had vaped.
“While I greatly respect this city and I greatly respect business owners in this city I am asking the city of Prior Lake to use your voice and to use the decision making that you have to keep our city safe. If your primary focus is not the safety of this city I’m not sure what else is, so with that I’m asking you to consider the ban on these products,” she said.
In addition, the council received numerous letters from residents and organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and more. Many of which asked the council to prohibit menthol and tobacco flavored vape products.
‘Committed to adult smokers’
Ibrahim Aqel, owner of the new smoke shop in Prior Lake asked the council to consider exempting 21 and up tobacco only stores from the proposed ordinance, stating “in this field we are committed to adult smokers 21 plus.”
Aqel, who owns several other vape shop locations, said the systems utilized in his stores — and his employees — require identification from customers to prevent a minor from obtaining products.
He noted that other Minnesota cities such as Roseville have adopted similar ordinances but exempted 21 and up stores. This prevents convenience stores from carrying flavored vape products, but allows stores like Aqel’s to continue to sell such products.
Aqel’s legal representation Attorney John Ella also addressed the council asking them to consider exemption.
“You can buy peach flavored schnapps or lemon flavored vodka in a liquor store if you’re 21 and over and we suggest that the same should apply to flavored vape products in this case, that it be limited and contained where it belongs in a store where access is restricted to adults 21 and over,” Ella said. “If the purpose is to keep young people from buying or accessing the product this achieves it.”
Should the council include the proposed ban in the existing city ordinance or conduct a comprehensive revision of the ordinance? Will the ban encompass all flavors or exempt tobacco and menthol flavored products? Should the ordinance exempt tobacco retailers that only allow customers 21 years of age and older? All questions the council faced after hearing testimony from the public.
It was unanimous across the dais that the proposed ban will continue to focus solely on flavored vape products and not include other flavored nicotine products such as chewing tobacco and cigarillos.
Council also directed staff to keep the language allowing tobacco and menthol flavored vape products currently in the proposed ban.
When asking the council for their direction on the exemption of 21 and up stores, City Attorney Sarah Schwarzhoff noted that most cities who had passed a similar ban did exempt such stores.
Councilmembers Kim Churchill and Zach Braid said they would be open to discussing the exemption further.
Councilmembers Kevin Burkart, Annette Thompson and Mayor Briggs stated they were in opposition of the exemption.
“I’ll go on record saying I would like to ban it at the 21 store as well,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to leave that as an exception. I think youth get their alcohol from a liquor store that’s probably where it comes from so youth probably would also get their vaping products at a 21, adult only store. It gets into their hands somehow from the store, so I’m opposed to that.”
Following review of the city’s tobacco ordinance as a whole by the Mitchell Hamline School of Law Public Health Law Center, city staff also recommended the council revise the city’s entire tobacco ordinance instead of solely adopting a proposed ban, which the council was in favor of.
Because of these revisions, the council now plans to consider adoption of the ordinance at its April 5 meeting.
While these were the decisions of the council during its Feb. 16 meeting, these factors could be reconsidered at the later meeting date.