In a much anticipated City Council meeting, Edina residents waited till almost midnight Tuesday to voice their opinions on an ordinance that would change the minimum age of tobacco sales in the city.
Not until 11:50 p.m., after lengthy discussion of a project at 50th and France, did Mayor Jim Hovland and Edina City Council members hear the public's views on raising the age from 18 to 21 — an effort to curb teen tobacco use.
The council unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance shortly after midnight Wednesday. If it approves the second reading at its next meeting on May 2, Edina will become the first city in Minnesota to require tobacco purchasers to be 21. The new law would go into effect 60 days after the May vote.
Several Edina High School students said their peers use tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes.
One Edina High School student said she saw an 18-year-old student buy cigarettes for a 17-year-old. For some, buying tobacco products on their 18th birthday is a rite of passage, another student said.
Several people mentioned loved ones who began smoking at a young age and later died of lung cancer.
According to the proposed ordinance, Edina would raise the purchasing age for all tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. The penalties for selling tobacco to those under the age limit would remain the same.
Dr. Caleb Schultz, of the city's Community Health Commission, recommended raising the age during a March council meeting. Schultz said the commission was spurred by Tobacco 21, a national campaign to raise the buying age.
Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, said some tobacco retailers were not informed about the ordinance and were not "afforded the time" to make a presentation.
"Raising the legal age" does not solve the problem, Briant said. He said 21-year-olds could purchase tobacco for underage teens.
Mark Olson said his Vernon BP gas station depends on business from 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. He asked the council to postpone action so that retailers could help "with a solution."
The council's meeting room was packed on Tuesday night, and a handful of people wore green T-shirts showing support for the campaign.
Edina has 18 licensed tobacco vendors, many of which are convenience stores and gas stations, along with its three municipal liquor stores. The city has no stand-alone smoke shop.
When the council voted to draft the ordinance in March, one Edina merchant said she could see teens buying products from neighboring cities.
Edina would be one of more than 210 cities in the country to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products, according to Tobacco 21. Hawaii and California adopted the same legislation statewide last year.
Staff writer Miguel Otarola contributed to this story.