Opponents of restricting menthol tobacco sales in Minneapolis claimed victory Tuesday after a City Council committee failed to vote on the ordinance and send it to the full council, though members will vote on the proposal Aug. 2.
An already-depleted Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee fell to three members and lost its quorum when Council Member Alondra Cano stepped out near the end of a lengthy public hearing, delaying the vote.
For two hours, public health advocates asked the committee to restrict menthol tobacco product sales to tobacco-only stores, while convenience store owners said the measure would devastate their businesses and not stop people from smoking.
As Council Member Cam Gordon was about to close the hearing, Cano began to gather her things, and stood.
"I'm also happy to stay," said Council Member Lisa Bender, who looked startled when she saw Cano walk out. "I think we're literally losing a council member — OK."
Gordon said, "So we've lost our quorum."
Cano said Tuesday she didn't intend to rob the meeting of a quorum; she just didn't know it was going to take so long and held off a prior commitment to stay as long as she did. She said she supports the measure.
Two other members of the committee were already absent. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden had a previously scheduled doctor's appointment that pulled her out early, and Council Member Jacob Frey didn't attend due to a personal conflict.
Frey, who's running for mayor and whose wife Sarah Clarke works for a firm that lobbies for Holiday Stationstores, said he plans to support the menthol restriction in some form but could not be at the hearing. Frey said his wife does not lobby on Minneapolis issues, and her work does not affect his decisions as a council member.
Gordon said he doesn't hold it against other council members for leaving the meeting.
"I don't think it's a big deal," Gordon said. "It was clear that the public hearing went longer than people expected. I could have done a better job alerting them."