Arden Hills considers tobacco ordinance exemption


Arden Hills Tobacco has been in business in the city for over a decade, located in a strip mall in the 3600 block of Lexington Ave. Its management has pushed against Arden Hills’ all-out ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, and now the city council is looking to perhaps exempt the store from its flavor ban ordinance. (courtesy of Google Maps )

The City of Arden Hills will hold a public hearing July 8 to consider exempting a store from a part of its new tobacco ordinance, which increased the legal purchasing age to 21 and banned the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products throughout the city to people of any age.

The change would amend the ordinance, passed on March 25 and going into effect July 1, to exempt from the flavor ban any pre-existing retail stores that get more than 90% of their sales from tobacco and nicotine products.

In practice, this would allow the city’s one tobacco shop, Arden Hills Tobacco, to continue selling flavored products to its customers, who, per the ordinance, are all required to be over 21. 

No future tobacco stores or pre-existing convenience stores would be able to sell flavored products, and if Arden Hills Tobacco moves, changes hands or closes, a de facto flavor ban would be in place.  

 

 

Initial passage

Maher Safi, manager of Arden Hills Tobacco, had spoken against the flavor ban at the ordinance amendment’s March 25 public hearing.

“The increase in tobacco use with young adults is not because businesses in Arden Hills are selling more tobacco products to those kids. The compliance rate has been the same,” he said. 

The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that tobacco use — driven by the use of electronic cigarettes — had risen among middle and high school students for the first time in decades, pushing cities to increase the legal sales age to 21. 

According to data from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Arden Hills Tobacco has passed all six of its federal compliance checks since December 2014. 

At the hearing, council member Fran Holmes made a motion to exempt adult-only tobacco stores from the ordinance, but failed to get a second. Council member Brenda Holden also expressed doubts, noting that adults over 21 should have the right to buy flavored products.

“At least four members of the council support the ban on flavored products,” said Mayor David Grant before the vote, referring to himself and council members Dave McClung and Steve Scott along with Holmes, after her motion failed. 

“I think they really wanted to exclude tobacco stores, but for some reason they did not end up doing that,” Safi said in an interview. “The store is 21-plus, there shouldn’t be any further restrictions ... it’s a little bit different than a gas station where children and young adults are maybe exposed to the product.”

The council voted unanimously to increase the purchasing age and ban the sale of flavored products citywide.

 

Follow up conversations

The issue came up up again at a May 20 council work session, where multiple council members said they had not fully understood the impact of the ban on Arden Hills Tobacco. According to Safi, he reached out to and met with most council members after the initial vote, showing them around the store. 

According to work session minutes, both Holmes and Grant didn’t realize what percentage of the store’s stock was flavored products, which Safi estimates is roughly 70%. Council members directed city staffers to delay enforcement of the current ordinance past July 1 and draft language to grandfather in Arden Hills Tobacco for as long it stays in its existing location with its existing owner. 

“Our intent in passing the original ordinance was not to drive anybody out of business,” Scott said in an interview, “the full intent of that ordinance was to protect the kids from getting access to tobacco.”

Although a new draft of the ordinance has been prepared, whether or not it will pass is still up for discussion, the topic of the July 8 public hearing. 

 

What about menthol exemption?

Ted Brausen, owner of the Arden Hills’ Shell station, would like to see further amendments to the flavor ban. He said he hopes to be able to continue selling menthol, mint and wintergreen products in his store, estimating that they contribute to about 30% of his overall business. 

In an April 22 letter to the paper, he wrote, “Nine out of the 10 customers who purchased the menthol cigarettes or wintergreen chew also purchased gasoline, soda and snacks.”

Neighboring cities Roseville and New Brighton increased the legal purchasing age without placing any restrictions on flavored products, which Brausen noted would put his business at an unfair disadvantage. Shoreview has raised the age and restricted flavors, but has excluded menthol, mint and wintergreen from the ordinance.

In a June 4 email to the Arden Hills council, Brausen cited data from the Centers for Disease Control reporting that traditional cigarette use continues to decline among youth, even as e-cigarette use is on the rise. 

“I don’t want children to smoke any more than anybody else,” said Brausen in an interview. “But if a 30-year-old wants to, that’s their business.”

Asked about possibly amending the ordinance further to allow for the continued sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen in any retail space, Scott was skeptical about it gaining traction.

“We’ll listen to arguments,” he said, “but I don’t think there’s enough support on the council to undo that part.”

The public hearing on the tobacco store exception will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 8, at City Hall, 1245 Highway 96 W.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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