Olmsted County Commissioners discuss possible ban of flavored tobacco products

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(ABC 6 News) – Olmsted County is hoping to mitigate the teen vaping epidemic with a potential ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products and create harsher punishments for businesses caught selling to minors.

Olmsted County’s Board of Commissioners has reignited the long-debated topic of how to keep minors away from tobacco products.

Some people in the community say that teen vaping has hit crisis levels and that it’s time government officials do something about it, but others say they have no business in telling adults what can and cannot do.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Olmsted County commissioners could not agree on a decision either.

According to the 2022 Minnesota Students Survey, nearly 85% of current teen tobacco users are consuming flavored e-cigarettes.

Now, talks of a potential ban on flavored products had people arguing on both sides at the meeting.

However, the commissioners could not agree on what is best for everyone and they are hoping that the community will have a say in the matter.
In Olmsted County, there are 88 licensed tobacco retailers, according to Olmsted Public Health. Each of these businesses would be impacted by this decision.

Peter Andrews is the manager at Rochester’s CBD Joint, and he says a large portion of sales comes from flavored tobacco products.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Andrews. “If they’re doing this to keep minors away, we don’t sell to minors. Adults should have the choice to do what they want and to think that adults don’t like good-flavored things or candy-flavored things is ridiculous.”

People like Andrews that are pushing against the possible ban say that consumers will just go across county lines, driving the business out of Olmsted County.

“I mean they just have to drive eight miles and you just drive the business out of Rochester. The revenue goes elsewhere,” Andrews added.

However, not everyone thinks that this is a bad thing.

“With the number of kids vaping and just people vaping in general, obviously they are going to find a different way of getting a vape but it’s just gonna make it a little bit harder,” said Reed Gilkey.

He says to put this crisis to an end, people have to do whatever it takes, including these stricter policies.

Commissioners also discussed harsher punishments for businesses caught selling to minors, including taking away their tobacco license after the third violation. The third violation could include a penalty raise of $250 to $1,000.

At the meeting, commissioners decided to put these discussions on hold until they can get more community input. It’s still unclear as to when a public comment period would be.