Mound council’s decision means tobacco retailers like Smokes 4 Less may get a reprieve. (Elizabeth Hustad/Laker Pioneer)

The same day that Hennepin County approved changes to its Ordinance 21 governing retail tobacco sales, the city of Mound decided it was having none of it.

Mound city councilmembers resolved 4-1 on July 9 to place on city staffers the onus of drafting its own ordinance for regulating tobacco sales, circumventing the county’s more stringent regulations, which take effect Jan. 1 next year.

For 30 minutes councilmembers inveighed against the effects tobacco has on people’s health but quickly moved on to lambast the role of government in consumer decisions, caution against the potentially negative impact tighter restrictions could have on local businesses and question the efficacy such regulations would actually have in reducing tobacco use among Westonka’s younger population.

“I do not want to see another business close up in this town,” Councilmember Jeff Bergquist said. “Some people argue that they may not close because of this, but we don’t really know that. Certainly, gas stations don’t make their money on gas.”

Councilmember Sherrie Pugh cast the sole dissenting vote, conceding a “personal vehemence” against the tobacco industry.

“I don’t believe in helping foster bad health and supporting an industry that has helped in forming an addictive drug,” Pugh said.

The revisions to Hennepin County’s Ordinance 21 raise the minimum sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21; restrict the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol, to adult-only tobacco stores; and prohibit the sale of cigars priced under $3.

Minnesota statute hedges tobacco licensing authority with the county if a city has not adopted its own ordinance for regulating tobacco sales. Mound has historically yielded such authority to Hennepin County, but with its decision Tuesday the city will now have until that same Jan. 1 deadline to decide how it will regulate and license its five tobacco retailers going forward.

Though Bergquist said he agreed with the county’s decision to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21, he had an issue with the patchwork way the new restrictions would be applied and said he’d prefer such a revision be made at the state level. 

Neighboring Wright and Carver counties, as well as other cities in Hennepin County, notably Spring Park and Orono, have their own ordinances that align with Minnesota state law, which stipulates 18 as the legal purchasing age for tobacco.

Councilmember Paula Larson, like Pugh, was effusive in her hatred of cigarettes. But she quickly expressed frustration with government meddling in the consumer decisions of legal adults.

“What’s more terrifying to me is to have the government telling us what we’re supposed to do with our health,” Larson said. She compared the county’s tightened control over tobacco to similar restrictions that some cities have on sugar-heavy foods.

Mayor Ray Salazar more than once referred to Hennepin County’s revisions as merely “feel good” measures that would have little to no impact on tobacco use but which could drive consumer dollars out of Mound and into nearby Spring Park and Orono.

Of the six jurisdictions originally to be affected by Hennepin County’s revisions, only one, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, may end up actually adopting them.

Rogers had already approved its own tobacco ordinance late last month, and Mayor Ruotsinoja of St. Bonifacius said that his city is considering drafting its own ordinance now that Hennepin has voted to go ahead with the changes. Greenfield Mayor Brad Johnson indicated that his city was leaning toward doing the same.

Neither Rockford nor MSP has made a formal decision on the matter, but Rick King, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said in an email that it is unlikely MSP will deviate from county regulations, saying that few of the airport’s retailers would be affected. 

Minnesota Student Survey data on tobacco use by ninth- and eleventh-graders in suburban Hennepin County show that while ninth-graders in Westonka are in line with county trends for tobacco use, the district’s eleventh-graders use tobacco at more than twice the county’s average rate.

More than a third of Westonka eleventh-graders said they had used tobacco during the 30 days prior to the survey, compared to a 19 percent average for suburban Hennepin County, survey results show. That number was largely driven by the district’s wide discrepancies in the use of chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco.

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