Duluth Council Passes Ordinance Restricting Flavored Tobacco Sales

Baihly Warfield
Updated: February 12, 2018 11:23 PM

The Duluth City Council voted 7-2 Monday night to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products to 18+ smoke shops.

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Convenience store owners and other business leaders had opposed the ordinance, maintaining it would hurt sales and not be an effective solution to the problem. 

The idea behind the ordinance was to restrict access for kids and try to prevent them from ever starting to smoke in the first place.

Many local health officials and organizations like the American Lung Association and CHUM have strongly supported the ordinance. There were many more speakers in favor of the ordinance at Monday's meetings than opposed. 

Kristi Melby, a tobacco treatment specialist at Genesis, told the story of someone she called "Johnny." 

"Johnny has spent his lifetime struggling with addiction, and it started with cigarettes when he was 9 years old," Melby told the council. "By restricting the sales of flavored tobacco products to adult-only tobacco shops, we can provide that warning that Johnny never got." 

Russ Troutwine, whose family owns Short Stop convenience stores, said the council is rewarding tobacco shops, which he said are not as compliant with regulations as C-stores.

"The FDA does compliance checks, which is administered by the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services. They fail 21 percent of the time in tobacco shops compared to about 3 percent in the convenience stores in this town," Troutwine said. 

"it's plain and simple," Andy Verhel of the Piedmont Milk House said. "Eliminate it from the high schools, eliminate it from Denfeld and East. Raise the age to 21, and that way, it will get out of there. Common sense." 

For some councilors, the decision was clear-cut and easy to make. Councilors Zack Filipovich and Barb Russ introduced it. 

"The statistics are unbelievable," Russ said.

Councilor Joel Sipress said he wrestled with the issue, but he called Big Tobacco a "murderous industry" when explaining why he would vote yes. 

"I think we've got to be clear about what we're talking about here," Sipress said. "It's a multi-million dollar industry whose entire business model depends upon addicting young people to a product that will gradually kill them." 

"People, planet and prosperity," was Councilor Gary Anderson's motto, he said, when making his decision. He said he started smoking when he himself worked at a convenience store in his youth. 

According to the ordinance, the store must derive at least 90 percent of its sales from tobacco and tobacco-related products in order to sell the flavored goods. 

Councilors Jay Fosle and Noah Hobbs were opposed to the change. 

Fosle said many of the nonprofits that were in favor of the restriction do not pay "certain taxes," and he said he wants to know if there will be studies done later to determine if this was an effective tool.

"This is only going to change who can sell the product," Fosle said. "That's all this is going to do."

It will take effect in 120 days. 


Baihly Warfield

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