New Brighton passes Tobacco 21

Council foregoes restrictions on flavored products

The New Brighton City Council voted to raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 at its June 11 meeting, while deciding to forego any restrictions on flavored tobacco and nicotine products. 

In passing a Tobacco 21 ordinance amendment, New Brighton became the 36th community statewide and the ninth city in the north metro to increase the legal purchasing age for tobacco and nicotine products. 

As part of the rationale for doing so, the city’s ordinance cited a 2015 Institute of Medicine report that says roughly 90% of adult smokers started smoking before turning 19. The study predicted that increasing the legal sale age could prevent more than 200,000 premature deaths nationwide.

The movement to increase the age has also been prompted, in part, by the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, which found that tobacco use — including the use of electronic cigarettes — increased among middle and high school students for the first time in 17 years. 

While traditional cigarette use has continued to decline among young people, e-cigarette use has risen 49% since 2014. 

Some neighboring communities have also chosen to enact restrictions on the sale of flavored products, but New Brighton limited itself to increasing the purchasing age.

“Our goal is not to take away business, but to protect our citizens who are under 21 years of age from the potential of becoming addicted to this particular product prior to them really being of age to make that decision,” Mayor Val Johnson said at the meeting.

In addition to increasing the purchasing age, the tobacco ordinance amendment requires that all employees selling tobacco and nicotine products be 18 years or older, whereas the city’s previous tobacco ordinance had set no guideline on the subject.

After some discussion, the fact that any underage clerk who failed a compliance check would need to be tried in a juvenile court persuaded the council to accept the change.

 

Public hearing

The vote came roughly a month after a public hearing, where some 30 students, parents, business owners and concerned residents addressed the council. Among those who spoke, there seemed to be almost unanimous agreement for increasing the purchasing age, but varied opinions on a flavor restriction.  

Going into the hearing, the council was considering three options for the restriction of flavored products: A complete ban; a restriction of all flavored products, including menthol, to adult-only stores; or a restriction of all flavored products, excluding menthol, to adult-only stores.  It could also choose, as it did, to enact no restriction.

At the hearing, teenagers voiced concern over the number of peers who use e-cigarettes, or “vape.” Most e-cigarette juices are flavored, and students stressed that tobacco companies are using these flavors, along with colorful packaging, to target youth. Meanwhile, local business owners said their stores help to regulate the sale of these products.

“We are the line in the sand, if you don’t have proper identification, you don’t get served and are asked to leave the store,” said the owner of Midwest Vapers in New Brighton. He noted that a very small portion of his sales come from people between 18 and 21 and voiced no opposition to increasing the purchasing age.

Convenience store owners also raised concerns about flavor restrictions. Natalia Almendarez, assistant manager of a BP service station in New Brighton, estimated that roughly 35% of the store’s sales are linked to menthol, mint and wintergreen products, taking into account the fact that customers purchasing those products would also typically buy snacks and gas.

Dean Showalter, owner of the New Brighton Shell station, noted at the hearing that there’s a Speedway directly across the street from him in Roseville. While Roseville passed a Tobacco 21 ordinance last year, it did not enact any kind of flavor restriction. 

 

Legal implications

Licensed retailers who violate the new ordinance will be charged an administrative fine and get their license revoked after a fourth offense. Individuals founds guilty of selling tobacco or nicotine products to those under 21 years of age will be charged an administrative fine of $50. Per state law, the legal age to use such products is still 18.

The ordinance will go into effect as soon as it is published in full in this newspaper, which Public Safety Director Tony Paetznick estimated would take place on June 26.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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