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BE discusses raising tobacco age

By Staff | Nov 10, 2019

Last Monday night, when the Blue Earth Area School District was presenting a program on the issue of students using e-cigarettes and vaping, the Blue Earth City Council was discussing the same topic.

At the request of city councilman John Huisman, the subject of T-21 had been put on the council’s work session agenda.

T-21 stands for Tobacco-21, and involves raising the minimum age for being able to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.

“There are 54 cities in Minnesota which have raised the minimum age to 21,” Huisman told the council. “And this is not current information, so there are probably more now.”

The council had visited this topic some time ago, but had decided to wait and see if the State of Minnesota would raise the minimum across the state.

“The tobacco lobbies fight this idea,” Huisman said. “It makes it difficult to get a proposed bill out of committee and to the full legislature for a vote.”

Huisman suggested that if enough cities pass their own law to raise the minimum age, then the legislature will take notice.

“What kind of information do you (other council members) need to move in this direction and make a decision,” Huisman asked.

Councilman Dan Warner asked about the County Board, and whether they are considering raising the minimum countywide.

“I think this really needs to be done across the county,” he said. “In order for it to be effective.”

Mayor Rick Scholtes agreed but said it should be statewide.

“If we make it 21, an 18-year-old will just go to Winnebago to buy cigarettes,” Scholtes said. “So it needs to be across the state.”

Huisman said he felt the Blue Earth City Council could take the lead now, and pass their own ordinance.

“This has become a grassroots effort,” he said. “If maybe 100 cities pass their own law, then the state will have to pay attention.”

Other discussion was on the fact that cigarette smoking by young people has actually decreased, but vaping has been growing in use by leaps and bounds.

“We have a lot of young people, even here at BEA, who are vaping,” Huisman said. “And many are in middle school or even younger. We have to try and do what we can to slow this down.”

In the end the council decided to talk to the other cities in the county, and the County Board, to try and work together to get the age minimum raised to 21 county-wide.

Mayor Scholtes also suggested sending a letter of support for T-21 to the state legislature. He also suggested the council might want to get a public vote on the matter.

In any case, most of the council members seemed in agreement that it was an important issue and that the main item would be to limit sales of vaping products.

The other item on the council’s work session agenda was to revisit the building permit process discussion from a previous meeting.

“I wanted to follow up from that earlier discussion,” city administrator Tim Ibisch said. “We have been implementing several ways to fine tune the process.”

The city now has a ledger sheet to gather the names, addresses, date and inspections performed for those doing construction or remodeling projects around the city.

“We are also working on ways to get the message out that getting a building permit is required,” Ibisch said. “We are especially working with local contractors and reminding them about the need for permits and inspections.”

Ibisch added the city plans a mailing to five to 10 area contractors to follow up with the permit rules. And that not getting a permit can result in a fine that is double the cost of a permit.