Council approves new restrictions on flavored tobacco

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The City Council has unanimously voted to approve new restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products — a policy change designed to prevent young people from smoking.

The sale of flavored tobacco products will be limited to specialty tobacco shops, which are required to restrict people under age 18 from entering. 

Menthol flavored products, however, are exempt from the new regulation.

The effective date of the changes will be Jan. 1. 2016 instead of Sept. 1, 2015 as originally proposed.

The amendment to the city’s tobacco ordinance authored by Council Members Cam Gordon (Ward 2) and Blong Yang (Ward 5) was in a response to a push from the city’s Youth Congress, a group of youth leaders who brought the issue to the Council’s attention. The products have flavors like chocolate and grape and are marketed like candy.

“We heard loud and clear from Minneapolis youth that flavored tobacco products are what most kids use when they start smoking,” said Gordon, chair of the Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee. “We believe that limiting access to these products will help prevent youth from becoming addicted to nicotine and dramatically improve the health of future generations.”

Yang and other Council members noted that tobacco-related illnesses are the leading cause of preventable death in the city and the harms of tobacco disproportionately impact communities of color.

City Council President Barb Johnson (Ward 4) shared a personal story about how tobacco use has impacted her family. Her father died of lung cancer at the age of 39, leaving behind seven children.

She said it’s been an “eye opener” to learn about how many youth are trying flavored tobacco products.

“This is a really great step in dealing sensibly with a public health issue that effects all of us,” she said.

In addition to limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products to specialty tobacco shops, the regulation also sets a minimum price of $2.60 for cigars.

Gas station and convenience station owners criticized the ordinance amendment at two public hearings at City Hall in June, saying the change will impact their bottom lines.

The ordinance change now limits the sale of the products to 25 tobacco shops compared to 420 places in the city (gas stations, markets, etc.) that currently sell them. 

The flavored tobacco products covered by the proposed ordinance amendments include little cigar and cigarillo products, e-juice, shisha, smokeless tobacco and other non-cigarette tobacco products.

Mayor Betsy Hodges commended the Council for the update to the tobacco ordinance.

“The well-being of our young people requires attention from many angles,” she said. “I’m thankful the City Council has taken steps forward to help protect young health and cut down on preventable tobacco deaths.”