Reaction Comes to Duluth Flavored Tobacco Ordinance

Created: February 13, 2018 05:33 PM

Local convenience and grocery stores have begun the four-month countdown to when they can no longer sell flavored tobacco products. 

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Monday night, the Duluth City Council passed an ordinance 7-2 restricting sales of flavored tobacco to smoke shops, despite urging from the business community. 

"Listen to all the steps, the training, and the compliance rates, the rewards, the disciplinary action," Joe O'Connor with Holiday Stationstores said Monday. "We even go as far as if you fail a sting, employees lose their job."

Reijo Rehkola, who owns Snyder's in the Holiday Center, said he was very disappointed. 

"I was kind of shocked. I didn't think it would pass by that big of a number, I guess," Rehkola said. "I thought they'd have more leeway and let us work something out, but apparently they had other ideas."

He said he doesn't agree with the decision, and he is already thinking about other options.

"I have an empty spot in my store where we used to have the post office," Rehkola pointed out. "I might make a smoke shop in there."

However, at Monday night's meeting, city councilors heard from many more people who thought restrictions on flavored tobacco products were a good idea. 

"There's a lot of community support for this ordinance because this ordinance will help protect kids like us from deadly tobacco products," Rodrick Campbell, a Lincoln Park middle schooler, said. 

Jeremy Hoglund with Blue Cross Blue Shield said in order to stop deaths related to smoking, officials must focus attention on lowering rates at which people start smoking. He said economic reasons were not good enough to deny the ordinance.

"Whether you want to admit it or not, smoking is directly affecting your pocketbook," Hoglund said. "Each and every person in this room is paying for the cost of tobacco use."

And while convenience store owners say they carefully follow regulations and check IDs, health advocates maintain it's about the bigger issue with Big Tobacco. 

"They only want the big money and the profits," John Williams said. "It is up to us to protect our children."

Councilors said they value the community engagement throughout the months-long discussion. 

"When you're on that side, there's one view," Renee Van Nett said, gesturing toward the packed council chambers. "But when you're on this side, there's a big, giant view."

Em Westerlund agreed that a lot of work has gone into this, and she said she hopes all voices will keep working on a long-term solution. 

"I encourage you to continue to evolve and find products that you can sell that are healthy and bring positive things to our community," Westerlund addressed business owners. 

The ordinance goes into effect in about four months.

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