ST. CLOUD – In front of a packed City Hall audience, a split St. Cloud City Council narrowly passed a new ordinance last week raising the tobacco sales age to 21.
By a 4-3 vote, council members moved to make this central Minnesota city the first outside the metro area to pass such a measure, raising tobacco sales age from 18 to 21. City councils in Edina, St. Louis Park and Bloomington have already passed similar measures.
But within a day, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis vetoed the ordinance — only the second time in his 12 years as mayor he’s exercised his veto power. Now, advocates of the measure are pushing council members to override his veto at their Nov. 20 meeting. To do so, five of the seven council votes are needed.
“I think a lot of the area cities were watching to see what St. Cloud would do,” said Kasey Cable, program specialist at Crave the Change, CentraCare Health Foundation’s organization that aims to reduce tobacco use. “We wish it was a different outcome.”
Other cities outside the metro area, such as Detroit Lakes, Mankato, North Mankato, Perham and Frazee, have discussed “tobacco 21” ordinances, but so far, none has approved the measure — in part over concerns about it being a state, not a city, issue.
While Kleis said he agreed there is a need to educate the community about the dangers of smoking, he said he felt “strongly” that it was not the city’s responsibility to implement the change. St. Cloud has a rare strong mayor-council system, which gives the mayor the power to hire staff and veto council decisions.
About 30 speakers appeared before the council last week to weigh in on the tobacco sales issue — from physicians and representatives of the local Boys and Girls Club to an e-cigarette lounge owner and vapor industry lobbyist.
Council Member George Hontos said it was the most lobbied issue he’s seen in 16 years on the council.
Hontos and colleagues Steve Laraway, Dave Masters and Carol Lewis voted for the ordinance while Jeff Johnson, Jeff Goerger and John Libert opposed it.
Crave the Change and other advocates of the measure are hoping to sway a fifth council member to override the veto while also exploring other ways to prevent teen tobacco use in St. Cloud.
“Tobacco is not a right,” Cable said. “It would be an absolute win if a city outside the metro could pass ‘tobacco 21’ and create a domino effect.”