The first reading of a proposed Tobacco 21 Ordinance got the Faribault City Council's OK Tuesday’s, a first formal step to bring city ordinance into alignment with federal law.

The federal government officially raised the minimum age for tobacco purchasing to 21 in December after the provision was slipped into a year-end budget deal struck between Congress and President Trump.

Because the provision isn’t enshrined in state law or city ordinance, it’s not enforceable by local police, though the federal Food and Drug Administration has the right to take enforcement actions. Nonetheless, local retailers are opting to abide by the change. The proposed ordinance won’t come into effect, as a second reading needs to be scheduled. Murray said that city officials are seeking to hold off on that until the state government acts, so that the new ordinance can be brought into full compliance with state law.

The issue was previously discussed and received preliminary Council backing at a February work session, but not all council members were enthusiastic. Councilors Elizabeth Cap and Tom Spooner both criticized the move as government overreach.

Last year, Mayor Kevin Voracek announced his support for an initiative to make Rice County just the third county in Minnesota to pass a Tobacco 21 law. Voracek argued that in order to make the ban worth it, it at least needed to cover the entire county.

Now that the federal government has moved ahead with the measure, Voracek said it’s both common sense and necessary for the city to act. However, he added that the city does need to wait for final directions from the state government. It’s likely that St. Paul will want to pass such a bill sooner rather than later. States which fail to comply with the new federal law within three years can have up to 10% of the state’s federal grant money withheld by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The push to raise the minimum age has gained major steam in recent years, with backing from public health groups across the country. Before federal law changed, 19 states across the country had raised the minimum age to 21.

Minnesota wasn’t among them, but a number of cities, including St. Peter and Mankato, had passed their own local ordinances. Recently, Northfield began implementing its own Tobacco 21 law.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Each year, nearly 500,000 Americans lose their lives due to tobacco use. A 2017 study by Clearway Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health found that with the change, 25 percent fewer 15-year-olds would start smoking by the time they turn 18, and 15 percent fewer 18-year-olds would start smoking by the time they turn 21.

For those under the age of 21, violation of the proposed ordinance would most likely lead to a Misdemeanor charge. However, Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen has said that officers and the courts are unlikely to be in a hurry to aggressively enforce the ordinance.

Once the order goes into effect, city’s enforcement efforts would likely be tougher on local retailers and individuals selling tobacco to those underAGE. Under existing city ordinance, they could see steep fines and even suspension or revocation of their tobacco license.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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