Columbia Heights restricts sale of flavored tobacco | Government

Columbia Heights recently took action to curb smoking by restricting the sale of menthol and other flavored tobacco or tobacco-related products in the city. But some business owners say this decision will have negative effects on them.

On October 11, Columbia Heights City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to change the city’s tobacco regulations and bring the city’s tobacco chapter into line with the laws of the city. State of Minnesota.

The ordinance restricts the sale of all flavored tobacco products to licensed tobacco stores (also known as tobacco stores) that derive 90% or more of their gross income from the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related products. It increases administrative fines by imposing a fine of $ 300 for a first offense, $ 600 for a second offense over 36 months and a fine of $ 1,000 for a third offense over 36 months. The ordinance also eliminates criminal penalties for tobacco-related offenses for persons under the age of 21, who may still be subject to civil penalties or remedies such as tobacco-related education courses, smoking programs. diversion, community service.

The change in ordinance stems from a discussion during a working session of the city council on August 2.

“This ordinance was initiated by city council to protect the youth of our community,” said town planner Minerva Hark.

City staff worked with the Hamline University Public Health Law Center and the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota to update the ordinance.

In a public hearing on September 27, several business leaders from Bobby and Steve’s Auto World spoke out against the order.

“I think you’re making a mistake with what you’re doing,” Bobby Williams, senior partner of Bobby and Steve’s Auto World, told city council. “All cities do this. I don’t smoke, but I know our customers do, and that’s important. We’re starting to limit what we can do as human beings, and I think it’s a big mistake to start making… I believe our clients have a right to choose.

Williams pointed out that city council member Nick Novitsky, a smoker, would be limited on where he could buy menthol cigarettes.

Steve’s Auto World partner Bobby and Jeff Bahe said about 30% of the company’s employees live in Columbia Heights. He said the company generates around $ 10,000 in revenue per week from sales of menthol cigarettes which are used to pay the salaries of these employees.

“To… pay our taxes, pay our employees a good living wage, we have to be able to do business, and by adopting that, what we’re going to do is we will have less ability to pay our employees. and our taxes and pay our full fair share, ”Bahe said.

Brent Morris, manager of Bobby’s continence store and Steve’s Auto World, shared his comments on smoking after working with children for over 15 years and being a smoker himself.

“When I see amendments like this, I see North Minneapolis, which has become sort of a black market for menthol cigarettes,” Morris said. “People go elsewhere and then sell individually, pack by pack, because there are a limited number of places you can buy menthol cigarettes in Minneapolis. I’ve worked with kids from kindergarten through to their teens, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about working with kids … if they want it, they’ll have it.

Morris said half of convenience store Bobby and Steve’s Auto World’s sales are from menthol cigarettes.

“If you take that out, you cripple the business,” he said, saying the store will lose sales of gasoline, snacks, drinks and more if customers can’t also buy products from the store. flavored tobacco. “All of this just hinders us and does nothing to help the overall problem they are trying to solve. “

Morris said he and his employees at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World are trained and that there are statewide systems in place to avoid selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

On April 29, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban the manufacture and distribution of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars to address public health disparities in commercial tobacco use. created by the tobacco industry‘s aggressive marketing of menthol to African Americans and others. of color, LGBTQIA + people and youth.

Molly Schmidtke, community outreach coordinator with the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, said 21 communities in Twin Cities are restricting the sale of tobacco products and eight of those cities have chosen to end the sale of all of them altogether. flavored tobacco products.

“Restricting the sale of all flavored tobacco products sends a clear message that Columbia Heights will not stand idly by while the tobacco industry renders a whole new generation of addicts,” Schmidtke said.

Former Columbia Heights resident Grace Plowman, who was recently named Youth Lawyer of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Children, has spoken out in favor of removing criminal penalties for crimes related to smoking. tobacco for persons under the age of 21.

“I support these policies because they help create racial equity within the city,” she said. “As a black person, I know too well that too many people of color are already penalized for non-violent drug offenses and many of these people are recovering addicts themselves. Removing the penalties for purchase, use and possession is a simple step we can take to help. “

On October 11, the city council unanimously approved the second reading of the ordinance.

“It is always a difficult responsibility to maintain the balance between supporting our local businesses and respecting the wishes of residents, while evaluating the hard data presented by both sides of an issue,” said Kt Jacobs, member of the municipal council. “I listened to the companies that came forward. Locally, I have listened to the residents, and a policy like the one before us tonight has been shown to be effective in reducing consumption by both African youth and adults, two of the market groups in the food industry. most targeted tobacco, and I cannot in good conscience ignore these numbers.

The ordinance will come into effect 30 days after its approval, on Wednesday, November 10.

About Margaret Shaw

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