Stewartville Tobacco-21 Ordinance

Mike Selkow, store manager at the Family Dollar store in Stewartville, gets a pack of cigarettes for a customer Tuesday in Stewartville. Selkow said the store stopped selling tobacco products to people younger than 21 in August after Olmsted County's ordinance took effect. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

STEWARTVILLE — Another city snuffed out cigarettes Tuesday night.

The city of Stewartville unanimously changed its smoking ordinance to restrict the purchase of smokes to those age 21 and older. 

"This basically is an in-house cleanup of our ordinance to match the county ordinance because we are in the county," said Stewartville Mayor Jimmie-John King.

King said city staff brought the issue to to the city council after the Olmsted County Board changed the age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21 in April. Because the city's ordinances cannot be less restrictive than the county's, he said, the effective age for purchase in Stewartville was already 21, but Stewartville's ordinance still needed fixing. 

In addition to restricting the purchase of tobacco to individuals 18 or older, the previous ordinance contained language saying no one younger than 18 could possess or use tobacco products. King said the possession and use clause was basically unenforceable, and is still unenforceable with the purchase age at 21. 

King said if the ordinance kept the possession and use clause, "anyone lighting up could be stopped."

By making the change to its tobacco ordinance, Laura Smith, a spokeswoman with Clearway Minnesota, an advocacy group that is working to change the legal age for tobacco purchase to 21 across all of Minnesota, said Stewartville becomes the 47th city or county to pass a "Tobacco 21" ordinance. 

"Minnesota has more Tobacco-21 communities than any state that doesn't have a state law," Smith said. 

Stewartville Tobacco-21 Ordinance

Cigarettes on display at Family Dollar in Stewartville. The Stewartville City Council voted Tuesday to raise the age for the purchase of cigarettes from 18 to 21. But some retailers, like Family Dollar, changed their store rules when Olmsted County raised the age. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The organization has been working with state legislators to try to change the age of tobacco purchase to 21 statewide, but hasn't been successful at the state level.  

"Things can happen slowly in the State Capitol in St. Paul, so that's why we've been in these local communities," Smith said. 

In fact, a Tobacco-21 presentation was made before the Winona County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 24, and the St. Charles City Council was scheduled to hear a similar presentation Tuesday night. 

Smith said thanks to ordinance changes in several Twin Cities jurisdictions, more than 30 percent of Minnesotans live in cities or counties where the age for buying tobacco is 21 or older. 

"What we really hear from a lot of folks is they get really excited to make a difference and put their city on the map," Smith said.

Stewartville City Administrator Bill Schimmel said the Stewartville ordinance includes all tobacco and tobacco-related products including e-cigarettes or vaping materials. 

The logic behind the change, Smith said, is to make it harder for teenagers to get access to tobacco products because most people who become addicted to tobacco start using the products as teens. 

"We now have more than one in five high-schoolers using e-cigarettes and 11 percent of middle school students using e-cigarettes," Smith said. 

Smith said changing the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 will reduce usage by 25 percent, research shows.

While certainly a fan of helping kids avoid smoking, King said his concern with the change is how it will impact retailers. Still, since Stewartville contracts with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office for its police service, making sure there is no confusion in Stewartville just made sense. 

"We never had a discussion on should it be 18 or should it be 21," King said. "We don't want every kid from Rochester coming down here to buy cigarettes and we'd have to do the enforcement."

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