During a public hearing necessary to update the county’s tobacco ordinance and remove flavored tobacco products from store shelves, the public showed up and voiced their opposition.
Mille Lacs County Public Health recommended the drafting of a tobacco ordinance that would be slightly more restrictive than state statute, primarily in the way of banning flavored tobacco products. The draft ordinance also states that compliance checks will occur and that it will be a violation for any person to sell or offer to sell any licensed product to any person under the age of 21 years.
The primary issue of those who opposed the more restrictive ordinance was the banning of flavored tobacco products.
One resident spoke saying, “If a state law is already in existence, why do we have to have an ordinance. I see the potential for codifying a nanny state.” He went on to question why menthol products are being singled out and believed that if store owners and parents would do their jobs, there wouldn’t be concern over teens getting ahold of flavored tobacco products. “Our country was founded on choice. It should be tabled if not voted down because we already have the state law.”
A Milaca store owner spoke against the measure, questioning, “Am I going to tell my 70-year-old farmer that he can’t get his flavored chewing tobacco? I oppose this measure.”
Another business owner spoke, saying, “If you take away those options (flavored tobacco products), people will be driving right past the stores in our county to buy everything they need … gas, food, tobacco. I think the loss would be bigger than you thought it would be.”
Mille Lacs County Coordinator Dillon Hayes read a letter sent to him from a concerned resident stating, “There would be lost tax revenue from the flavored products. I encourage you to vote no and look at it from a business standpoint and how much revenue will be lost.”
Board chair Dave Oslin and commissioner Genny Reynolds said that they had also received emails opposing the measure. Commissioner Phil Peterson stated that he understood the revenue side of the issue.
Commissioner Tim Wilhelm stated, “It just shoves business to the neighbors. We need to know what the other counties are doing before we punish our people.”
Hayes stated that the City of Milaca was opposed to the flavored tobacco ban and that no cities in the area have a similar ban. He added that the State requires that the ordinance is updated to make sure compliance checks are in place and tobacco is only sold to those 21 years and older.
Reynolds stated that she would like to see the flavored tobacco section of the ordinance removed from the draft.
Consensus among the board was to vote on the measure at the next regular board meeting.