City moves forward in considering change to tobacco-buying age

Published 9:05 pm Monday, January 28, 2019

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday moved forward in the process of considering raising the minimum tobacco-buying age to 21.

Approval means businesses will be informed of the possible ordinance and public hearing dates. A first hearing is expected for the Feb. 11 council meeting. A second hearing could take place Feb. 25.

The vote passed by a 4-1 margin. Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. and councilors Reid Olson, Al “Minnow” Brooks and Robert Rasmussen voted yes. Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland voted no. Councilors Rich Murray and Larry Baker were absent from the meeting.

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“The interest is there, and people are looking for something to be done, so I would direct (Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams) to do what he needs to be doing to start the process,” Brooks said.

In voting no, Howland said he based his decision on constituent feedback.

“There’s not a lot of people in town in favor of this, of limiting legal adults’ rights to make purchases in town,” he said.

Howland questioned the effectiveness of any ordinance because the minimum tobacco use and possessing age would still be 18. Eighteen- to 20-year-old Albert Lea residents would still be able to buy tobacco products in neighboring communities.

“These are adults, and they’re adults by law,” Howland said. “And if they want to make those poor health choices, then they should have that right.”

Brooks said though he understood Howland’s point, “we would be neglecting our responsibility, I think, to not at least go through the process.”

Adams noted most councilors would like to defer to the state on the initiative, but the state has not taken action.

Council discussion came after Freeborn County Statewide Health Improvement Partnership Coordinator Lana Howe, Freeborn County Truancy Officer Amy Geyer, Freeborn County Partners in Prevention Coordinator Jenny Hendrickson, Blue Zones Project of Albert Lea Organization Lead Ellen Kehr and Liz Heimer of the American Lung Association expressed support of the plan during a Jan. 14 council meeting.

They called e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic.

Organizers hope raising the tobacco age cuts down on overall tobacco use. They noted earlier this month nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers start before 21.

Rasmussen noted the harmful effects smoking has on society and said due process needs to occur before any action. He said it will be “important” to see how the issue is being addressed at the state level when city officials visit the Capitol this week.

Olson said local parents have shared accounts of early teenagers possessing vaping devices.

“Community dialogue in this would be a wonderful idea, just because you have multiple opinions out there,” he said. “My opinion is the state should probably take care of it  — or the county — before cities and municipalities do, but I’m all in favor of hearing what the public has to say on issues like this,” he said.

In other action, councilors:

• Heard a request by Howe, a health educator, for a bikeable community workshop in Albert Lea.

“These workshops help create a more bicycle-friendly community and foster the continued growth of a healthy and energy efficient means of transportation,” Adams said in a report.

• Approved purchasing a replacement Parks Department mower/blower after the department’s 2012 John Deere 1545 reportedly became due for replacement.

The acquisition is a capital improvement project and budgeted at $45,000. The purchase price is $49,818, and the replaced unit will be traded in for $13,000, leaving the price after trade-in $36,818.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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