BUFFALO, MN – On a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Mark Daleiden and Charlie Borrell opposed, the board approved an ordinance amendment to raise the tobacco-buying age in Wright County to 21.
Under the ordinance, it will still be legal for someone under 21 to sell tobacco in a retail establishment, and there will be no fine for minors in possession of tobacco.
There will now be two different compliance checks for retail establishments, one utilizing someone between the ages of 15 and 18, and one utilizing someone between the ages of 18 and 21. The civil penalties for noncompliance will increase from $75 to $200 for the first violation, from $200 to $500 for the second offense within a 24-month period, and from $250 to $1,000 for a third offense within a 24-month period. A fourth or subsequent offense will result in the suspension of the license for at least 30 days.
The vote followed a public hearing at a committee of the whole meeting at which two individuals spoke against the change and five spoke in favor of it, in addition to more than 30 written communications in favor of the ordinance.
Those opposed said customers purchase tobacco online or from stores in other counties.
Those in favor shared concerns about vaping in schools and health concerns linked to vaping and smoking.
Daleiden, the lone smoker on the board, explained his opposition.
“Somebody had mentioned we can send 18-year-olds who are kids, or are they adults, to war. They can’t drink, they can’t smoke in our county,” Daleiden said.
Both he and Borrell stated they believe the state should set the tobacco-buying age.
“In a perfect world, I don’t want cigarette smoking, I don’t want e-cigs, I don’t want any of this stuff,” Borrell said. “It’s out there. It’s not something we need to be bringing up at the county level.”
Commissioner Mike Potter disagreed.
“We need to take steps to protect our kids,” he said. “Hopefully, enough counties are doing this so the state gets the message.”
Commissioner Christine Husom joined Potter in saying schools throughout the county need support as they address vaping.
“They’re watching kids go down and being taken away by ambulance because they don’t know what’s in those cartridges,” Husom said. “Limiting access does curb that. If people are hell-bent on doing something, they will do that. For a lot of people, they take note. It’s going to limit access.”
“There is a good number of people, when something is illegal, they tend not to do it,” Chair Darek Vetsch added. “ . . . If it stems off 20 percent of people, it’s a move in the right direction.”