The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday raised the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and four cities where the county regulates retail licenses.
The board also approved two other changes to the county’s tobacco ordinance, prohibiting the sale of cigars under $3 and banning the sale of flavored tobacco products outside of adult-only tobacco stores. Commissioners decided against a fourth measure, raising the minimum age of tobacco sellers from 16 to 18.
The county is authorized by state law to regulate tobacco sales, but only for those jurisdictions that don’t regulate themselves — in this case Greenfield, Mound, Rockford and St. Bonifacius, as well as the airport. Hennepin County joins nearly 500 jurisdictions across the U.S. that have raised the tobacco sales age to 21.
Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which runs the airport, said in a statement that the agency has been monitoring the county’s discussion of the tobacco ordinance. While retailers who sell tobacco products in the terminal buildings hadn’t expressed concern about the ordinance, convenience stores on the airport campus are worried about lost sales opportunities, according to Melissa Scovronski, manager of corporate communications for MAC.
Such stores, she said, say that they are at a disadvantage with other nearby convenience stores subject to less restrictive ordinances.
Commissioner Jan Callison said she doesn’t believe the ordinance change will have a catastrophic effect on businesses. She said the board acted to prioritize the health of young people and that it was “the right thing to do.”
Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the board’s only dissenting vote, said government shouldn’t be setting prices for cigars and that the new rules will have a devastating financial effect on businesses.
“This has little to do about protecting the kids. It’s government telling people how to run their lives,” he said. “I can’t be a part of that.”
More than 6,300 people die from tobacco each year in Minnesota. One in seven Hennepin County deaths is tobacco-related, costing the county $585 million each year, said Susan Palchick, the county’s Public Health Director. She said that 19% of 11th-graders in the suburbs use tobacco.
About a dozen people from Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation attended Tuesday’s meeting. Emily Anderson, who spoke on behalf of the youth smoking-prevention coalition, said the potential health benefits far outweigh any money loss for business owners. She said she hoped legislators soon will follow Hennepin County’s example.
Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said he was disappointed by the board’s decision to over-regulate, as he put it. He said he would encourage cities to adopt their own licensing rules, such as Rogers recently did to avoid having to comply with the county’s ordinance.
“Empirical data shows city-by-city patchwork regulations do not work,” he said. “In fact, after Duluth enacted a similar ban on menthol, mint and wintergreen products, neighboring cities saw a 150 percent increase in sales in these products.”