The Otter Tail County commissioners held a second public hearing on Monday night to hear public opinions about the Tobacco 21 ordinance they are considering implementing county wide to restrict access to tobacco and nicotine products to those under the age of 21.
Otter Tail County Public Health Director Diane Thorson gave a short presentation on why the ordinance was proposed and some of the data surrounding the issue presented to the county.
“What you can see is some of the cigarette use is going down but e-cigarette use, beginning in 2014, when they started capturing data on that, began to rise significantly,” Thorson said.
Approximately 60 people showed up to the public meeting and approximately 25 spoke, taking up the whole hour and a half period of time allocated to public comment. There were several comments both supporting the ordinance and not supporting the ordinance.
“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Minnesota and many of the diverse populations we serve are disproportionately affected by tobacco,” Otter Tail Family Service Collaborative Coordinator, Troy Haugen said. “I am particularly alarmed because we are seeing an uptick in tobacco usage in classrooms and schools.”
Speaking in support for the ordinance, representing the city of Fergus Falls was City Administrator, Andrew Bremseth. Perham was also represented although not officially. Mayor of Perham Tim Meehl attended the meeting to speak against the ordinance personally, reading some information from Tobacco Harm Reduction 4 Life.
“I don’t condone smoking with kids any more than anyone else,” Meehl said. “My mother died of throat cancer, she smoked when she was 13 years old, I smoked when I was 13, I smoked for over 35 years, fortunately, I was able to quit. I just don’t think this T21 law will work. I am just speaking on my behalf not on the behalf of the city.”
Tobacco prevention coordinator serving Becker, Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties Jason McCoy was in attendance, helping organize those there to speak in favor of the ordinance, many wearing teal shirts that read “Tobacco 21” on the back.
“The main thing I want to speak to is the idea that vaping is safe is just not true,” Perham resident, Josh Chatman said. “ Most of it is a lack of research, research is starting to come but it’s a relatively new thing so the research is behind a little bit. There is a fairly large study reported in the Journal of Preventive Medicine that shows vaping all by itself, not in addition to tobacco or anything else, independently increases the risk of heart attack. It does the exact same things to the blood vessels that conventional cigarettes do.”
Tobacco Harm Reduction 4 Life Vice President Jen Hoban was there to help organize those to speak in opposition to the ordinance. This hearing they had their own t-shirts, the front had “T21” circled in red and crossed out. One of those speaking in opposition of the ordinance was Justin Danbury, owner of Lincoln Vapors.
“Minors are not going to stop having this, it’s just not going to happen,” Danbury said. “They’ll be able to go to a store I own in Fargo and that can cause an issue with creating a black market, people altering to make them more unsafe. They can go to a gas station or convenience store where these JUULs are sold which is much higher nicotine. That is the most important thing: health, period. Cigarettes kill. Whatever we can do as a community to get people off of cigarettes lets do it but it has to be effective.”
The county commissioners will accept written comments to their email addresses until Aug. 31 at 4 p.m.