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Tobacco-related ordinance set for vote on Nov. 6 in Otter Tail County

a young man smoking a cigarette

Otter Tail County commissioners, following citizen input, will vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, concerning adoption of a proposed tobacco-related ordinance for people under the age of 21.

If approved, regulations would begin on Jan. 1, 2019, on a phased-in basis.

The technical title is "the Otter Tail County Tobacco Provision Minimum Legal Age Ordinance."

On Jan. 1 this coming year the ordinance, if approved, would apply for people who will be 18 years of age. On Jan. 1, 2020, regulations would kick in for people 18 and 19 years of age. On Jan. 1, 2021, the ban would apply to people 18, 19 or 20 years of age.

County commissioners, if they so desire, could approve this ordinance pursuant to Minnesota statutes allowing for local ordinances.

The statutes allow for counties "to regulate actual and potential threats to the public health and to set more restrictive regulation on the distribution of tobacco, tobacco products, tobacco-related devices, electronic delivery devices, and nicotine devices."

Current statutes make it illegal to sell tobacco products to children, which means under the age of 18.

If approved, the county enforcement authority of the ordinance would provide notice of any compliance check failure to the municipal tobacco retailer licensing authority of the jurisdiction where a failed compliance check occurs.

Any person found to have violated this ordinance would be subject to a fine of no less than $200 for the first offense, no less than $500 for the second offense, and no less than $750 for each offense thereafter.

Public meetings allowed for county citizen input

County residents, at public meetings or with the option of emailing comments to county officials, have weighed in over the past several months on the proposed tobacco related ordinance.

Various health officials said smoking habits by teens will result in serious health disorders as they get older. Another consideration is second-hand smoke damage to blood vessels.

It was pointed out that a Juul is an easy to use vaporizer designed for smokers, with use of a charger. It can fit into the palm of a hand.

A pod comes in eight flavors and delivers as much nicotine as up to two packs of cigarettes.

Some individuals, however, have spoken in opposition to the proposed county tobacco ordinance.

One person pointed out that kids from 18 to 21 would simply drive to neighboring counties to purchase tobacco products. Another person said the change would result in a black market.

Another person said that raising the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 would hurt the tourism industry.

Minnesota has 11 cities in east central Minnesota that have a T-21 ordinance. Fines are often stiff for businesses that violate the T-21 directive.