Bloomington has always been a leader in putting forth strong policies and programs to protect youth against the harms of commercial tobacco products. In 2004 we were the first city in the metro to adopt a ban on smoking in public spaces including bars and restaurants, which eventually became the statewide Clean Indoor Air Act. In 2017, we were the third city in Minnesota to pass Tobacco 21, which raised the legal purchase age of tobacco products from 18 to 21. Tobacco 21 was passed as a state law in 2020.
Through study sessions, community consultation, and thorough research of best practices for reducing youth commercial tobacco use, amendments to Chapter 14 of Bloomington City Code were recommended. These amendments relate to the issuing of tobacco retail licenses and the sale of flavored tobacco products. View the proposed ordinance changes.
Menthol and flavoring restrictions
The ordinance would restrict the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Menthol and flavoring in tobacco products are a powerful attraction to youth. Flavorings make it more appealing to begin using tobacco and are marketed to youth to get them hooked. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 80% of youth who tried tobacco used a menthol or flavored product.
Tobacco license restrictions
The ordinance would also set a total cap on tobacco licenses in the city. When a license is not renewed, such as if a retailer closes or chooses to stop selling tobacco products, the license is permanently retired. The City of Bloomington already prohibits the transfer of a tobacco license. This “zero cap” effectively reduces the overall number of licenses over time. Existing retailers would be allowed to continue sales until the sale or transfer of ownership of a business. In the meantime, no new retailers would be allowed to receive a license.
City Council takes action on tobacco
On April 26, the City Council continued its leadership of protecting youth and marginalized communities against the harms of commercial tobacco products through bold and innovative policy action. The Council voted to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and to sunset the availability of new tobacco retail licenses in the city, effectively reducing the number of retailers over several years. The flavoring changes go into effect on January 1, 2022, and the licensing changes go into effect on June 30, 2022. Public Health is working closely with its partners to ensure cessation resources are available in the community.
What is the purpose of the proposed amendments?
Lowering smoking rates and eliminating health disparities would create improved health outcomes and reduced inequities, especially among youth. It would also lower health care costs that would benefit all Minnesotans. We are also seeing a drastic increase in youth tobacco use in Minnesota.
In 2019, Minnesota Student Survey Data showed 26 percent of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes – a 54 percent increase since 2016.
Why ban flavors?
Research demonstrates that flavored tobacco products are especially attractive to youth. These products increase initiation among all populations by masking the harsh taste of tobacco and nicotine.
- More than 80 percent of youth who ever tried tobacco started with a flavored tobacco product.
- The FDA reported that seven in 10 youth say they use e-cigarettes “because they come in flavors [they] like.”
- In 2020, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that four in five (81.8%) current high-school tobacco users reported using a flavored product.
- A 2020 statewide poll found that 74 percent of Minnesotans support prohibiting the sales of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
- Support for this policy was high across demographics and regions, including among African Americans (77 percent support) and rural residents (81 percent support).
Why is menthol included in a flavor ban?
Menthol is a flavor that gives a cooling sensation and masks tobacco’s harshness, making it easier to start smoking and harder to quit. The US Department of health and Human Services reports that menthol in cigarettes leads people- especially young people- to experiment with smoking. It can also increase a young person’s risk of becoming dependent on nicotine. Additionally, compared to individuals who smoke non-menthol cigarettes, individuals who smoke menthol cigarettes make more attempts to quit smoking and have a harder time quitting.
The tobacco industry has used menthol flavors to racially segment and target certain customers, especially Black Americans, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) communities, and youth. This has resulted in disparities among usage rates and health consequences. Clearing the market of menthol and all flavored products will directly improve the health of Black communities and other groups targeted by Big Tobacco.
What products will be banned?
Any tobacco-related product that contains a taste or smell, other than the taste or smell of tobacco that is distinguishable by an ordinary consumer either before or during the consumption of the product. This includes, but is not limited to, any taste or smell relating to chocolate, cocoa, menthol, mint, wintergreen, vanilla, honey, fruit, or any candy, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb, or spice.
Are there any exceptions?
There are no exceptions to the flavoring or menthol ban. The only exception to the tobacco license cap is new provision that will allow for the transfer of a license to a spouse or child. Otherwise, licenses are not transferable.
Why restrict licenses?
Communities with a higher density of commercial tobacco retailers expose more youth and young adults to commercial tobacco industry marketing and make it easier for youth and young adults to obtain licensed products.
Retail availability of tobacco also increases exposure to industry point of sale advertising, marketing, and promotion, contributes to social and environmental inequities, and contributes to higher smoking rates of youth and adult commercial tobacco use. Retail availability of commercial tobacco products also encourages impulse purchasing of tobacco products, prompts cravings, and undermines quit attempts.
What will happen to tobacco retailers that are currently in operation?
Existing retailers would be allowed to continue sales until the sale or transfer of ownership of a business. At this point, the new owner would not be able to apply for a tobacco license and the current license will not be transferable. In other words, when a current license is not renewed it is permanently retired. No new licenses will be issued after policy adoption.
Current license holders will have until January 1, 2022 to eliminate their inventory of flavored tobacco products. This timeframe was lengthened from 180 days based on licensee input.
Why not set a limit on the number of tobacco licenses in the city?
Capping licenses at a set amount and in certain areas of the city (e.g., limiting number to 20 or imposing a buffer of 1,000 feet from entities that serve youth) can create inequities and drive out small ‘mom and pop’ shops, while big chain stores, or retailers with more capital, take over the market, especially in areas outside the buffer where competition is high. Capping licenses at zero (proposed) will have a more equitable impact on businesses across the city.
Has this been done before?
More than 15 Minnesota communities have passed flavored tobacco restrictions, including major cities and small towns. In Minnesota, local and state agencies have the authority to regulate which tobacco products are sold.
Other communities across the country have passed various commercial tobacco license ordinances that restrict where and how many licenses can operate.