Mendota Heights bans sale of many flavored tobacco products


file photo • At the March 20 Mendota Heights City Council meeting, a group of students from Henry Sibley High School gave a presentation on why the sale of flavored tobacco, outside of tobacco-only shops, should be banned. The students are part of Anglos Latinos Motivated to Succeed, ALMAS, and discussed how flavored tobacco products target younger kids, and what can be done about the problem. On May 15 the council acted on the students’ presentation, banning the sale of many flavored tobacco products within the city.

Joins growing list of area cities changing tobacco ordinances

 

The Mendota Heights City Council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment May 15 banning the sale of many flavored tobacco products at licensed vendors in the city.

The ban includes popular flavors of e-cigarettes, and puts the city in line with other cities across the metro looking to make it harder for young people to get tobacco products that are increasingly being used by kids under 18.

Elyse Less, executive director of Tobacco-Free Alliance-Minnesota, said in an interview that because of their sweet flavor, low cost and colorful packaging, flavored tobacco products appeal to youth.

“Many flavored tobacco products are often hard to distinguish from the candy displays near where they are frequently placed in retail outlets,” Less said.

She added that flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, are just as addictive as non-flavored tobacco — almost all such products contain nicotine, which can cause lasting damage to the user.

The ban goes into effect Sept. 1.

 

The ordinance 

City Manager Mark McNeill said at the council’s May 15 meeting that the council had previously reached a consensus on amending the city’s tobacco ordinance after a presentation from a group of students, the Anglos Latinos Motivated to Succeed from Henry Sibley High School, which implored council members to restrict flavored tobacco sales.

McNeill said the proposed ordinance amendment would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the city excluding wintergreen, mint, menthol. A definition of e-cigarettes would also be added to the ordinance that was not included the last time the code was updated. 

“It would also make the penalties for any violation of this ordinance consistent with what state law is,” McNeill said.

Mendota Heights officials met with the city’s six licensed tobacco sellers to explain the ordinance change.

The council agenda packet outlined the sellers’ concerns — they urged the council to look to the state to make the change and also expressed concerns the ban would put Mendota Heights stores at a disadvantage.  

 

Protect the kids

Dr. Andy Grande, a Mendota Heights resident, said he fully supports the ordinance amendment.

“Measures like this are the simplest, most effective way to prevent tobacco initiation in our community,” Grande said. He said one of his practice and research areas is the treatment of strokes, pointing out there are only two factors for strokes a person can change to help prevent their chances of having one: diet and smoking. 

He added that a link between e-cigarette use and heart disease emerged this year. 

Grande said young people think using e-cigarettes comes without the negative health risks and just allow them to inhale the taste of sweet flavors. 

“While I, as a neurosurgeon, can work to treat these conditions, you have the power to prevent them,” he told the council.

A Henry Sibley High School student, said she was there in support of the amendment — she said she constantly sees students using e-cigs and vaping and that they don’t realize how addictive it is.

Robert Hanson, a teacher at Henry Sibley and the coordinator of the group that previously spoke to the council, said he polls students in his class regarding e-cigarettes and vaping. 

“There’s not one of them that doesn’t know somebody in the school who’s vaping in school and outside of school,” Hanson said, adding kids who have been caught vaping multiple times still get caught even after being suspended. 

Hanson added if students are in the school and are addicted to nicotine, he wonders what they are thinking about in class. 

“They’re not thinking about what I’m teaching,” he said. “They’re thinking about getting to the bathroom or somewhere to [vape].”

 

‘Right thing to do’

“This is the right thing to do,” said council member Jay Miller. “I think it’s long overdue.”

He added the council has the opportunity to prevent kids from using tobacco, noting that while nothing is ever “kid-proof,” a decision that night could go a long way towards helping mitigate access to these products. 

Council member Liz Petschel said the council has had a real lesson in civics over the last few months. “What we’ve had is a truly great example of a grassroots movement,” she said, referencing the calls and letters — more than she’s received about any other issue — that pressed the council to act.

Council member Joel Paper said when he had his first discussion about the issue back in September, he had no idea about flavored tobacco and was stunned by how many flavors were available.

“I don’t know any adults that go out and smoke grape-flavored cigars. It’s not what my peer group does, and I can’t imagine too many others do as well,” Paper said. 

He said hopefully other neighboring cities will take similar actions, making it difficult for kids in the community to start smoking. 

Mayor Neil Garlock said the council does a lot of things but he described the night’s move as a “very honorable ordinance.”

Less said limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products is one way communities can protect their youth. 

“As each city passes a law, momentum to bring the issue to the state level increases,” she said, adding Mendota Heights is the eighth Minnesota city to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products. 

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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