St. Paul leaders think the city doesn't need any more businesses selling cigarettes and other tobacco products.
As part of its campaign to limit tobacco sales in the city, the St. Paul City Council is considering an ordinance that would cap the number of tobacco retail licenses at 242 — the current number citywide.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, one of the authors of the proposed ordinance, said the council has contemplated the idea since passing a restriction on menthol tobacco sales last year. Council members were concerned that limiting menthol sales to specialty tobacco shops and liquor stores would make it more profitable to sell tobacco in those establishments, and that more would open as a result, she said.
Advocates for limiting access to tobacco products in the city say they support the policy, and some plan to speak in favor of it at a public hearing Wednesday evening.
"We're excited to see them moving forward with this pretty common-sense proposal that will really make sure that there's not that proliferation of tobacco retailers in the city," said Alicia Leizinger, program and policy specialist for the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota.
St. Paul requires businesses selling tobacco products or e-cigarettes to be licensed with the city and charges an annual fee of $453 per outlet.
St. Paul has 10 pending tobacco license applications, according to Laurie Brickley, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Safety and Inspections. Of those, seven are gas stations, two are liquor stores and one is a sports bar. Under the proposed ordinance, any eligible establishments that have applied for a tobacco license by Aug. 1 will be exempted from the cap.
Columbia Heights and Little Canada already limit tobacco licenses.
St. Paul has tightened restrictions on tobacco sales in recent years. Before passing the menthol ordinance, the City Council voted to limit sales of flavored tobacco — products such as candy-flavored cigarillos and fruit-flavored chewing tobacco.
Though the menthol restriction in St. Paul hasn't yet taken effect, a national trade group representing tobacco retailers says many will lose substantial revenue and may go out of business. If that happens, imposing a cap on licenses is pointless, said Tom Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.
"This situation was created by the City Council, and a cap on the number of licenses isn't going to solve anything," he said, "because the business environment is so negative now in the city of St. Paul."
The City Council will likely vote on the ordinance June 27.