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Some Otter Tail County citizens lash out against T21

Citizens and business owners in Otter Tail County are critical of the newly passed ordinance to raise the purchasing age of tobacco from 18 to 21. On Nov. 13 the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners passed the controversial T21 ordinance maki...

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Citizens and business owners in Otter Tail County are critical of the newly passed ordinance to raise the purchasing age of tobacco from 18 to 21.

On Nov. 13 the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners passed the controversial T21 ordinance making it illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to purchase tobacco.

Residents of Otter Tail County took to Facebook to vent these frustrations. Users lambasted the decision and county government, some accusing them of infringing on consumer rights and negatively impacting area businesses.

"Do they really think this is going to stop anyone from smoking? Gee whiz, can't buy smokes in Perham anymore, guess I'll just quit. Yeah right, 10 minute drive and you're in Frazee. Any age limit changes need to be nationwide or not at all," commented Dan O'Boyle on a previous story covering the topic. O'Boyle's comment does bring a rather glaring detail to light. What's stopping people from simply traveling a short distance out of county to purchase tobacco products?

The underlying plan of the ordinance is that with proven success, perhaps other counties will follow suit. It's still uncertain if there will be more concrete adopters on the county level. When contacted for comment, Wadena County officials said no plans have been proposed to implement a similar ordinance.

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The mayor of Perham, Tim Meehl, openly opposed the passing of this ordinance and quickly picked apart its flaws. "It's a good idea in theory, but it will not work," said Meehl who believes, the ordinance is fundamentally flawed because of how easy it would still be to acquire tobacco. He also pointed out that people could still use tobacco if they were under 21, they simply couldn't purchase it. This is yet another piece of information about the contentious T21 ordinance that have many brushing it off as ineffective.

Other feedback from the community includes the belief that all this new ordinance will do is hurt businesses in Otter Tail County. Tim Meehl was also concerned about the effect T21 would have on business within the city of Perham. He was worried that raising the age for tobacco purchase would damage the sales of convenience stores, adding that people purchasing tobacco often buy other goods.

"Kids shouldn't smoke, but this isn't going to work," said Meehl.

Corey Neseth on Facebook, shared this sentiment by commenting, "What happens when a few people arrogantly decide they have the right to tell other adults how to live their lives? Garbage laws like this one... and I don't like cigarettes, it's the principle." The underlying theme of public outcry is in regard to the freedoms that come with adulthood. Some citizens believe a person should be able to make their own decisions at 18, believing that raising the purchasing age of tobacco will do nothing to solve the problem much like prohibition decades ago. On the other side of this argument are people who simply want to reduce tobacco use amongst young people, citing the fact that 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 21.

But Meehl believes the commissioners that passed this ordinance don't listen to the people. From his perspective, there were more against it than for it, and the Otter Tail commissioners simply wanted to be first. He also believes that the decision could resulting in a lawsuit for government overreach, and "Perham doesn't want to be a part of your lawsuit," Meehl said.

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