The Minneapolis City Council is considering making a pack of cigarettes no cheaper than $15 — before taxes — the highest in the nation.

"That's robbery," said Ojo Trill after shopping at the Uptown Tobacco & E-Cigs store on Lake Street. "Stop raising the costs for us to be regular people."

Public health officials and smoking cessation advocates say the high cost should reduce the number of people who smoke, especially youth, although opponents worry about the effect it could have on low-income smokers and potentially encourage black market sales. Jason Johnson, another man shopping at the Lake Street store Tuesday, said it's unfair to people who already struggle with the costs of living in the city.

"People can't afford $15, $16 for cigarettes," Johnson said.

The proposal, headed toward a full council vote next week, would also ban discounts and coupons, set minimum prices for other tobacco products, and ban smoking inside cigar and hookah lounges.

While much of the proposed ordinance has widespread support among the council and from Mayor Jacob Frey, its immediate prospects aren't certain. Following a public hearing Tuesday afternoon, a council committee moved the plan ahead without recommendation, as several members said they might want to change parts of it.

The proposal, led by Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, is similar to one introduced last year that was shelved, in part, to give more time for businesses like Anthony's Pipe & Cigar Lounge in Uptown, For years, cigar aficionados have kicked back in chairs at Anthony's to take in stogies via an exception to the state's indoor smoking ban that allows patrons to "sample" the products of tobacco shops. Under the current proposal, Anthony's, as well as several hookah lounges frequented by East African immigrants, would have to ban indoor smoking Dec. 1, although outdoor smoking would remain OK.

That portion of the proposed ordinance is designed to protect workers, but the thrust of the package is aimed at curbing smoking itself.

$15 minimums

The price of tobacco products has been climbing for years, with a pack of smokes surpassing $13.50 in downtown Minneapolis convenience stores. But the $15 minimum — at least $15.74 after state taxes — would be a new high, eclipsing the $10-per-pack minimum enacted by St. Paul in 2021 and blowing past New York City's $13 minimum, although actual prices are often higher.

Evalyn Carbrey, senior public health specialist for the city's health department, said Minneapolis' $15 floor would be the highest minimum price in the nation, and it wouldn't be just for cigarettes.

A 4-pack of cigars would also be $15, as would a tin of chewing tobacco. Vaping compounds and e-cigarettes would not be affected.

The extra money would not be a tax, but simply a mandatory minimum price. The retailer would keep the extra money. The reasoning, Carbrey said, is that the extra money could "soften the blow from any decrease in sales" for retailers.

No coupons

Today, many tobacco users get their fix for less, thanks to coupons and discounts targeted so precisely, via email and social media, that nonsmokers might never know they exist.

The proposed changes in Minneapolis would render those coupons worthless within the city limits.

Goal: Less smoking

Smoking cessation advocates, ranging from public health officials to the American Cancer Society, have been pushing for minimum prices as a way to combat smoking in recent years because, they say, it works, especially with youth who haven't yet taken up the deadly addiction.

Carbrey cited studies showing that every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes corresponds to a 3-5% decrease in adult smoking and a 6-7% decrease in youth smoking.

Still, forcing nicotine addicts, who are disproportionately lower income and can be disproportionately people of color, to pay more is not a painless idea.

Council Member Andrea Jenkins, who been active in the smoking cessation movement for 20 years, said she supported much of the proposal but emphasized a nuance: "The impact will negatively impact communities of color who smoke for many reasons, including, as stated (by a many who spoke at the hearing minutes earlier), 'being Black in America.' "

Although he was buying a vape cartridge Tuesday at the Uptown tobacco shop, Trill said he also buys cigarette packs each week. He was appalled by the idea of imposing a minimum cost, and said it feels like the city is trying to control smokers' lives.

Johnson, who was buying a pack of Newports for $12.60, said cigarettes are crucial for himself and others to relax and ease stress.