Fridley Becomes 17th City to restrict flavored tobacco
Fridley recently became the 17th city in Minnesota to limit the sale of flavored tobacco products to only tobacco shops. While some applauded the move as good for public health, others worry it will hurt gas stations and convenience stores. The Fridley City Council passed an ordinance 4-1 Sept. 14 that amends the current city code’s section on tobacco products.
After consulting with the Fridley city attorney and advocates from the Association of Nonsmokers Minnesota, Fridley staff told the City Council back in May that it was in the best interest of the health of Fridley residents to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco. Staff also suggested that the city code on tobacco products needed to be updated, because it hadn’t been since 1996.
The new ordinance amendment does four things: updates definitions in the city code, limits the sale of flavored tobacco to tobacco product shops, aligns the city code with state and federal laws that increased the tobacco product purchasing age to 21 or older, and limits indoor sampling of tobacco products to tobacco product shops.
Under the new code, only tobacco product shops will be allowed to sell flavored tobacco products as of May 1, 2021, after the current Fridley tobacco licenses expire on April 30, 2021.
Fridley Police Department Deputy Director Ryan George said the city’s new definition of a “tobacco products shop” requires that you must be at least 21 to enter, the entrance to the shop opens directly outside, more than 90% of the shop’s gross revenue comes from the sale of tobacco-related products and the shop does not include a tobacco department or possesses any type of food, liquor or restaurant license.
“Flavored tobacco, including menthol, makes tobacco easier to start smoking and harder to quit,” George said. “Flavored tobacco is heavily marketed to youth, women, LGBTQ and communities of color.”
According to the Association of Nonsmokers-Minnesota, 88% of African-American smokers in Minnesota use menthol, as well as 70% of LGBTQ youth smokers and 34% of youth smokers.
Another significant change in the code is that indoor sampling of tobacco products will also be limited to tobacco product shops.
A number of people participated in a postcard writing campaign with the group Beautiful Lie, Ugly Truth, to show the City Council their support for the amendment.
Gene Nichols wrote an email to the City Council saying he was in full support of the amendment, especially for classifying menthol as a flavored tobacco product. “I know that it may be tempting to treat menthol differently than other flavored tobacco products, but I urge you not to exempt menthol tobacco for the proposed restriction on flavored tobacco,” he wrote.
Resident Pam Reynolds, who is an ex-smoker of over 50 years, was vocal against limiting flavored tobacco, especially menthol, saying it limits the free market economy.
“My issue with this is yay rah-rah, it might stop a kid from smoking a cigarette or buying a vapor,” she said. “My problem with it is that government once again limits the free market. Tobacco, tobacco products are legal substances. … I believe a lot of this boils down to it’s the parents’ responsibility, not the government’s responsibility, and I believe you are doing a great disservice to your gas stations and convenience stores.”
City Council Member Ann Bolkcom asked Reynolds to think more about the impact tobacco products have on youth.
“There are a lot of studies related to if you don’t start smoking while you’re a teenager that you won’t smoke and if you don’t quit smoking by 24 the chances of you quitting smoking is very, very low,” Bolkcom said. “Do you think people at your age if you were still smoking would still be using flavored tobacco? There’s a huge push out there because they don’t like the taste of tobacco and the burn of tobacco so the flavors are less harsh.”
According to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey Results, 100% of Fridley High School 11th-graders who responded claimed not to have used cigarettes, cigars or cigarillos in the last 30 days, and 100%, claimed not to have used any chewing tobacco, snuff or dip in the last 30 days. But 18 Fridley High School 11th-graders, or 17.2%, said they used a vape device in the last 30 days.
Bolkcom strongly questioned the accuracy of this report, considering it didn’t match with the overall statewide data.
“The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey found that more than a quarter of 11th graders and more than 1 in 10 eighth-graders used e-cigarettes in the past month,” she said. “From 2016 to 2019, eighth-graders’ vaping rates nearly doubled, and the overall rise in youth vaping has erased two decades of progress to reduce youth tobacco use.”
City Council Member David Ostwald shared his experience as a former smoker.
“I was a former tobacco user, and I started at the very young age of 13 and I did not choose flavored,” he said. “I grew up in a household with a smoker. My father smoked Camel Straights. He had a heart attack at 50 years old. It was related to that. I’ve had aunts, uncles die from tobacco. I understand this. I agree with the raising to 21. I agree with the premise of what this is trying to do … Tobacco is bad, and I agree, but right now tobacco is a legal product that’s legally sold.”
Ostwald said he was strongly against having the city take away profits businesses in town see from flavored tobacco products and then move those products to only tobacco shops.
“You need to ban tobacco, and that needs to be done at a state or federal level and go that way, but you can’t pick and choose,” he said, about which benefits see a profit. “I agree with the premise and a lot of what is going on here, but I can’t agree with the business side of it and taking it away unless it’s made illegal to do this.”
Mayor Scott Lund said he wished the state or federal government would restrict or ban tobacco products but thinks for now it’s up to local city governments to start the change.
“I would be much happier if the state would take this on as a statewide issue,” Lund said. “But, as with most of the things … in reality, it doesn’t happen from the top side down. … I think we owe it, as council persons, to help our city, and this is a help to our young people. If not now, when?”
The City Council then voted 4-1 in favor of the ordinance, with Ostwald opposed.
Fridley is the 17th Minnesota community to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco and the 12th to also restrict the sale of menthol. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Saint Louis Park, Shoreview, Lauderdale, Duluth, Mendota Heights, Robbinsdale, Falcon Heights, Lilydale, Arden Hills, Golden Valley, Rushford, New Hope, Edina and Hennepin County have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Mendota Heights, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, Lilydale, Arden Hills, Golden Valley, Edina and Hennepin County also restrict the sale of menthol tobacco products. Five other cites — Golden Valley, Mendota Heights, Lilydale, Edina and Arden Hills — completely prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products.