St. Paul enacts some of nation’s toughest tobacco restrictions

By Tim Nelson, MPR News

November 4- The city of St. Paul passed sweeping new tobacco restrictions that set a minimum $10 price on a pack of cigarettes and packs of smokeless tobacco. They also ban discounts and coupons for any tobacco products, including vaping liquid.

The ban further includes prohibition on sales of menthol cigarettes in liquor stores, which had an exemption for a previous ban on such sales. It also sunsets some tobacco sales licenses and sets a minimum distance between retail outlets — both measures that will mean there will be fewer tobacco retailers in the city as time goes on.

City Council member Rebecca Noecker welcomed unanimous approval of the new ordinance, aimed at preventing young people from smoking or using other nicotine-containing products.

“This is just another form of supporting our young people and preparing them to be healthy adults,” she said.

Noecker joined her six colleagues in unanimously approving the measure Wednesday.

More than a decade ago, St. Paul was the first major city to approve a total indoor smoking ban, although a mayoral veto initially delayed implementation. The passage prompted Ramsey County, then Minneapolis and other cities to adopt similar measures, eventually becoming state law.

City Council member Nelsie Yang said she hoped the city would prove to be a trailblazer for another new generation of tobacco restrictions. She told her colleagues at a City Council meeting Wednesday night that officials elsewhere are already expressing their support.

“I just think it would be even more powerful to be able to see other cities adopt this as well, so I encourage those elected officials to do this for their communities, too,” Yang said.

Opponents say the restrictions will hurt small retailers who have already been grappling with recent changes to the minimum wage, sick leave requirements and COVID. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association sent a letter saying liquor stores already do a good job of handling highly regulated products and shouldn’t be subject to more changes.

The ordinance goes into effect in early December, and supporters say they hope other cities will take up similar restrictions.

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