Ordinance in Otter Tail County Could Raise Tobacco Age from 18 to 21
People voiced their opinions about the ordinance at a public input meeting
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. –For many people in Otter Tail County, tobacco has played a negative role in their lives.
“I’ve had lung problems since my father and my sister were smokers, and my mother died of cancer,” said Keith Lillis, the President of the Fergus Falls Riverside Lions Club.
The risk of lung problems, as well as the growing number of high school students using other tobacco products like JUUL and e–cigarettes, prompted many community members to speak out to support new legislation raising the county’s minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
“Nicotine in all tobacco products, so it’s not just smoking, we’re also talking about vaping, we’re talking about chew, anything that has nicotine in it, is going to slow down brain development,” said Jason McCoy, the Tobacco Prevention Coordinator at PartnerSHIP 4 Health.
While some Minnesota cities have struggled to pass “Tobacco 21” initiatives, some say enforcement at the county level would be more efficient.
“Then we’re universal across all of our county, and all of our cities are treated the same. And yes we know there are bordering counties and communities surrounding us that have not adopted this, but we believe over time, they will,” said Diane Thorson, the Public Health Director for Otter Tail County.
While some opponents of the ordinance acknowledge the negative health impact of tobacco, they also say that restricting access to alternative products like JUUL and e–cigarettes, could have negative effects on the Otter Tail County economy.
“Tobacco 21 on a city or county level really doesn’t do anything to curb underage use. 18, 19, and 20–year–olds will just drive to a neighboring city, community, county, or state and still pick up the products legally,” said James Robideaux, the Director of Operations at Masterpiece Vapor.
Opponents also say limiting the sale of tobacco products would also create a black market within the county.
But at the end of the day, they just want the county from affecting how adults make health decisions.
“That’s all we want is to have those tobacco harm reduction products along with that educational piece that is tantamount to them making the proper decision for their health,” said Kevin Price, the President and Founder of Tobacco Harm Reduction for Life.
Otter Tail County Commissioners will hold another public input meeting on August 27th to give people another chance to voice their thoughts on the ordinance.
If passed, the legislation would take effect next year.