Morrison County Public Health will host a public hearing on its updated tobacco ordinance, Tuesday, June 22.
The ordinance brings the county into compliance with legislation passed by the federal government in December 2019 and by the state of Minnesota in May 2020, banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old.
“This has been on our to-do (list) for a while, but with COVID, obviously, it went on the back-burner,” said Morrison County Human Services Supervisor Sarah Pratt, speaking to the Board of Commissioners during a planning session, Tuesday.
There are several differences between the updated ordinance and what is currently in place, which was established in September 2016.
The formatting and language of the ordinance has been changed to mirror the county’s Environmental Health Ordinance. It also includes some of the research behind the tobacco ordinance and a jurisdiction section. The new ordinance also includes definitions for terms such as a “flavored product” and “imitation tobacco product.”
“Obviously, since 2016 there’s been a lot of changes with vaping and e-juice and all of those things, so we had to make some definition changes,” Pratt said.
One big change is in the minimum clerk age. In the 2016 ordinance, it is stated that the youngest someone can be to sell tobacco is 16. The Public Health Law Center (PHLC), as part of its review, wanted the county to change that to 21.
“Well, that’s hard in a rural community with limited jobs,” Pratt said.
Instead, age was taken out of the ordinance altogether. If an establishment has repeat offenses selling to people under 21, then the minimum clerk age for employees in that establishment must be 18 for the rest of that license year.
Another more noticeable change is in the minimum pack pricing. Under the old ordinance, minimum pricing was in relation to cigars. For a pack size of five or fewer, the price had to be a minimum of $2.10 per cigar. If it was six or more cigars in a pack, the price had to be at least $12.60.
The PHLC wanted the county to increase that to $4 and $15, respectively.
“We just took out minimum pack pricing and just said that we would follow federal requirements on this,” Pratt said.
In August 2020, monetary discipline was taken out of state statute for minors who were found in possession of or using tobacco. Instead, alternative penalties will be enforced that incorporate educational opportunities and cessation resources.
“That was an interesting find in that, really, the person possessing tobacco cannot get a minor ticket or anything like that,” said Public Health Director Brad Vold. “How we can help them quit smoking in, kind of, a consequential manner is not possible right now. We are still going to try to do education and encouragement.”
Vold said, once commissioners have had a chance to look over the new ordinance, as long as there are no major issues, it will be posted in the June 6 and June 13 editions of the Morrison County Record for public review. A public hearing will then be held during the County Board’s meeting Tuesday, June 22. The ordinance would go into effect Aug. 1.
“It’s interesting to see how much has changed since 2017, as we reviewed this ordinance, around the tobacco industry and how they’ve evolved to create opportunities for kids to keep smoking, which is unfortunate,” Vold said.
“The biggest thing is, you have to be 21 and older to smoke,” he added. “That’s what we’re trying to do with our ordinance, as well as making sure establishments card individuals purchasing tobacco similar to alcohol and paying attention to that. We’ve not seen a lot of establishments that don’t abide by that.”
Board of Commissioners Briefs:
In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Discussed that Morrison County Social Services’ virtual private network (VPN) was found to be out of compliance during an audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Social Services Director Brad Vold and Information Technology Director Amy Middendorf informed the Board they would like to purchase a new appliance to house the VPN along with new software at a cost of $4,200;
• Discussed the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing vaccination efforts;
• Heard an update from County Administrator Deb Gruber about staff training on the new Paycom human resources information system; and
• Discussed making planning sessions available remotely by request only, rather than creating a virtual meeting for each session. Regular meetings will still be accessible via Microsoft TEAMS and later posted on the county’s YouTube page.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 1, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.