Minneapolis Menthol Vote Imminent

Council loses quorum two hours into public hearing, delays vote

MINNEAPOLIS -- After two hours of public testimony, the Minneapolis City Council announced it would delay voting on an ordinance restricting the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products to Wednesday, Aug. 2. The delay came after a council member left the crowded chambers, causing the council to lose quorum.

“I really apologize to everybody that came that we lost quorum. I guess I should own part of that responsibility that I didn’t point out to everybody what a long public hearing this was certain to be, if you’ve paid attention at all,” said Cam Gordon, the City Council member who, along with fellow council member Lisa Bender, wrote the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance would restrict the sale of all menthol-, mint- and wintergreen-flavored tobacco products and devices to tobacco shops. If approved, the ordinance would go into effect immediately, though violations would not be enforced until August 2018. A $200 citation would be given for a first offense, doubling thereafter, along with a possible misdemeanor charge and license suspension, revocation, or nonrenewal.

The hearing drew more than 90 people, with others spilling into the hallway and a separate viewing room. More than 70 people signed up to testify both for and against the ordinance.

Many Minneapolis convenience-store retailers testified, urging council members to either vote no or postpone any action until more research is completed.

“We are your first line of defense for keeping tobacco from underage [consumers],” said one retailer, citing the 398 out of 405 Minneapolis c-stores that passed age-verification compliance checks by the Minnesota Department of Human Services from June 2016 to May 2017, according to the Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers.

The coalition has retained Management Science Associates to conduct two economic studies—one focusing on the economic impact of the partial tobacco flavor ban that passed Jan. 1, 2016, the second studying the economic impact of the menthol ordinance. The coalition expects the research to take approximately 10 weeks to conduct.

Prior to the public hearing, members of the Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers gathered in the lobby of Minneapolis City Hall for a press conference on the ordinance.

“This ban on the sale of menthol tobacco products is the last straw for us,” said Clay Lambert, owner of Metro Petro, during the press conference. “We would like to expand our business into other neighborhoods. However, this looming threat of the banned tobacco products and the amount of revenue we would lose would make this very difficult, and our banks are very leery to invest in us.”

If the ordinance is approved, sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products would be restricted to tobacco shops, defined as retail establishments that derive more than 90% of gross revenue from the sale of tobacco products, and that prohibit entry by people under the age of 18.

Follow CSP Daily News for more details on the public hearing.

Photograph by David Bowman

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