At last week's city council meeting, St. James became Minnesota's 50th Tobacco 21 community. Eleven other cities have motioned the policy since Kaley Hernandez of Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) first spoke to the council on September 3rd.

One of the most common questions about the T21 policy was, "If someone can join the military at 18, shouldn't they be able to buy tobacco?" Information provided by Hernandez stated, "We want a military force that is physically ready, and tobacco use impairs that readiness."

Another of the most common questions included, "Will T21 hurt our local stores and decrease city sales tax revenue?" The same information stated, "18-20-year-olds makeup roughly 2-4% of the tobacco market, but are the primary/important source of underage smokers. The goal of [T21] is to save the kids from a lifetime of addiction and disease."

Hernandez provided a more recent 2019 statistic from the Minnesota Student Survey. St. James students are the source. The statistic addresses the concern about minors acquiring products from older siblings or friends. 

"When you vaped or used an e-cigarette during the last 30 days, how did you get it?"    8th grade: 50% said I got it from friends and 50% from someone they didn't know. 9th grade: 83% said I got it from friends, and 17% said I got it by getting someone else to buy it for me. 11th grade: 100% said they got it from friends.   "This is an important statistic," said Hernandez, "because we know passing a Tobacco 21 policy keeps tobacco products out of the hands of social sources (friends) for high school students." 

St. James hasn't updated their Sec. 6.21 Tobacco ordinance in over a decade. The motion last Tuesday changes nearly half of the original law, updating the intent, violations, penalties, and more.

The ordinance purpose in 1998 stated studies showed most smokers began before they were 18, and those who reached 18 without smoking were significantly less likely to start (p. 97. sec. 6.21 subd. 1). The ordinance intent changes after recent studies state almost 95% of people start smoking before they're 21, and nearly no one begins after they're 25.

The present purpose also more significantly speaks to the youth e-cigarettes epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed 33 deaths in 24 states as of Oct. 17. The new ordinance states studies show youth and young adults are especially sensitive to product availability, advertising, and price promotions.   

Under the penalties section, the city might subject violators under 21 to non-criminal, non-monetary civil penalties, such as tobacco-related education classes, diversion programs, or community services. SHIP and the American Lung Association declared their support for no prison time because there's no evidence that penalties reduce youth tobacco use. Individuals, other than people 21 and under, will be charged with a petty misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $300. The previous charge was an administrative fee of $50. 

The violations section declares the council as a hearing officer. A few council members were concerned during the last two table readings, asking in what other instances is the council a hearing officer. The other 13 active chapters of city ordinances don't declare the board as a hearing officer. The council has only served as a hearing officer in the 1998 Sec. 6.21 Tobacco ordinance.  

 The wholly amended ordinance is expected to take effect on or after November 5th.