The Minneapolis City Council on Friday passed a moratorium on new tobacco shops after concluding that retailers were seeking those licenses to circumvent the city's year-old restrictions on menthol tobacco sales.
While the moratorium is in effect, the city will not issue licenses to businesses that want to open a tobacco shop. Existing tobacco businesses will be able to get their licenses renewed as usual.
The move comes a year after the City Council outlawed menthol tobacco sales in convenience and grocery stores. Tobacco shops can sell menthol, and the city saw a wave of applications for this category of business, city officials said.
Minneapolis has 38 tobacco shops and seven pending new license applications for tobacco stores, according to the city's business licenses and consumer services division.
"The Council is doing this now after months of deliberation and analysis noting the heightened number of tobacco only shop applications which are being concentrated in certain parts of Minneapolis," Council Member Alondra Cano, the author of the ordinance, wrote in an e-mail.
"The moratorium will give policy makers, city staff, and residents the time to assess the impact of our most recent regulations on tobacco and address any unintended outcomes from those actions."
During the moratorium, the council will consider possible amendments to the zoning code and policies related to tobacco shops.
Jovita Awaijane, owner of Nokomis Market in south Minneapolis, used to sell menthol tobacco before she was forbidden from doing so in 2017. Awaijane wanted to convert part of her store into a tobacco shop, but the City Council rejected application for a rezoning on Aug. 17.
"I simply don't understand what they are trying to accomplish," she said Friday.
Awaijane said she had a mild heart attack on Monday and spent four days in the hospital because of the "great deal of stress" related to loss of her business.
"Do you think the City Council cares about the stress this has placed on families? They don't care," Awaijane said. "When you take 45 to 50 percent of our business away from us, how do you expect to survive?"
The Minneapolis City Council has taken several steps to limit tobacco sales in the name of protecting public health. In addition to restricting the sales of menthol tobacco products to adult-only tobacco shops and liquor stores, the council in 2015 also banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in convenience stores. And in May, the council raised the age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21.
The St. Paul City Council voted in June to cap the number of tobacco retail licenses.