COLUMBIA HEIGHTS (POPULATION 21,973)
In Columbia Heights, our City Council expressed interest in 2021 in amending a city ordinance to make flavored tobacco more difficult for youth to obtain, while also decriminalizing the purchase, use, and possession of tobacco products by people under the age of 21.
Weighing the options
The council was presented with three options: (1) ban all sales of flavored tobacco products in the city; (2) restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products to tobacco product shops only; or (3) make no changes to the regulations concerning flavored tobacco sales.
The council chose to move forward with an ordinance that would restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products to licensed tobacco product shops only.
A little history
There’s a bit of history to smoke shops in our city. During the rise of hookah lounges in the United States, Columbia Heights became a hot spot in the Twin Cities region. This was the result of a weak ordinance that allowed for indoor smoking in the form of “sampling.”
This loophole drove business owners to obtain smoke shop licenses and allow customers to “sample” hookah tobacco. This led city staff at the time to limit the number of smoke shop licenses, and today, there are three active tobacco product shop licenses in the city.
Crafting a new ordinance
Our staff worked alongside the Association of Nonsmokers — Minnesota and the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law to craft a new ordinance.
The resulting ordinance clearly defines flavored tobacco products, bans indoor smoking or sampling, restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products to licensed tobacco product shops only, increases administrative fines for licensees, and eliminates criminal penalties for tobacco-related offenses for people under the age of 21.
The council’s core intention was to limit the exposure and appeal of flavored tobacco products to our youth. The ordinance passed unanimously on Oct. 11, 2021, and became effective on Jan. 1, 2022.
Several local business owners with accessory tobacco sales licenses opposed the changes, as they would prohibit them from selling all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. But we also received many letters of support from residents and from people around the region.
LILYDALE (POPULATION 809)
In 2019, the City of Lilydale adopted an ordinance raising the tobacco sales age to 21, ahead of the statewide “T21” law enacted in 2020. The ordinance also prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco and nicotine products.
Learning about the issue
The issue was first brought to our council’s attention by a Lilydale resident and high school student. He was concerned about the increased use of e-cigarettes and tobacco by his peers, and the harmful effects these products could have on them. The City Council wanted to learn more.
Tobacco-Free Alliance Minnesota was a valuable resource for us from start to finish. First, they provided an extensive informational and eye-opening presentation at a City Council meeting.
Council members participated in a “show and tell,” where they handled various e-cigarettes, disguised as sleek gadgets that often look like flash drives, pens, and pencil sharpeners. They also smelled a variety of the fruit and candy e-cigarette juice flavors that appeal to teens and mask the harsh flavor of tobacco.
Tobacco-Free Alliance Minnesota also provided model ordinance language and, after we passed our ordinance, they gave us guides and signage to distribute to our tobacco licensees.
Support for the ban
Many students, residents, and public health organizations expressed support for the proposed ordinance. They had concerns about the use of the highly addictive flavored nicotine and tobacco products by people under the age of 21.
The council debated whether to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products to individuals over 21 and whether to include menthol in the ban. They decided to do both.
We received little opposition to the proposed changes from tobacco licensees or members of the public. Yet, we heard clearly from supporters that menthol-flavored products, including menthol chewing tobacco and cigarettes, were popular with teens and should be banned.
Our city contracts with the neighboring City of Mendota Heights for police services, so our City Council worked to draft an ordinance that mirrors theirs. We thought this was important from an enforcement standpoint.
A proud moment
When the City Council passed the ordinance, the atmosphere in the council chambers was one of joy and hopefulness. We were proud of the community’s involvement and the steps we took to combat this harmful issue affecting the health and well-being of our young people.