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County board bans under 21 tobacco sales

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved on July 2 a ban to sell tobacco products to persons under 21. The ordinance is effective Aug. 2. File photo/Stevens County Times

Starting next month, people under 21 won't be able to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes in Stevens County.

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, July 2, unanimously passed a ban on selling tobacco products to persons under 21, effective Aug. 2. The decision was met with applause from at least 20 supporters of the ban at the meeting.

Several supporters spoke in favor of the ban. At this public hearing and at the first public hearing in June, supporters of the ban cited concerns about tobacco use by youth.

Lower elementary school student Ella Lam said tobacco harms people and discarded cigarettes harm animals. Some people use tobacco products to look cool but it isn't, she said.

Dr. Jason Huiko of Stevens Community Medical Center said he supports the ban because he's concerned about tobacco use by youth and access to tobacco products. Tobacco use in younger persons is linked to attention issues and other negative issues, he said.

"I see vaping in the bathroom (at school)," Hancock High School student Parker Schmidgall said of a popular e-cigarette option called vaping. Students also vape in class and it's not possible for a teacher to see it happening all the time, he said.

Commissioner Bob Kopitzke said the board also received letters of support for the under 21 tobacco sales ban. He appreciated the input from supporters because it helped the board make its decision, Kopitzke said.

Commissioner Ron Staples said he had one comment from a business owner who sells tobacco who was concerned about the fine charged to the employee who may sell a tobacco product to someone under 21.

"His concern was for younger adults, is there a way to mitigate that?" Staples asked.

The fine is set by the state of Minnesota, said Amy Reineke of Horizon Public Health, the agency which has spearheaded the request for an under 21 tobacco sales ban.

Reineke said the local ordinance includes providing education and access to education for employees to prevent selling tobacco from persons under 21.

"The bottom line is people need to slow down," Reineke said of the importance of taking time to carefully check identification of a potential tobacco buyer.

"We as consumers (can help). We need to let (cashier) do their job, instead of (wanting) them to hurry up."

County attorney Aaron Jordan said he appreciated working with public health and supporters to develop a good ordinance for the county.