With a county ordinance on tobacco sales coming, Wadena County Public Health director Cindy Pederson, nursing supervisor Erica Keppers and community health specialist Laure Laughlin presented commissioners with the proposed ordinance and additions that led to no approval on Dec. 15.
The ordinance follows the state’s statute starting on Aug. 1 that matches the federal legislation of moving the tobacco buying age to 21-years-old. Wadena County has a tobacco ordinance, which was last updated in 1998. The county ordinance will need to reflect the state statute. Public Health is also working with cities in the county to update their ordinances.
The commissioners discussed three possible additions to the ordinance: a legal age for clerks selling tobacco; retailers' proximity to youth-oriented facilities; and flavored products. The Wadena County Tobacco 21 ordinance committee removed and discussed adding portions to the ordinance different from the state, according to Keppers.
The three topics are in addition to the state law and are not required. The additions could improve the community’s health, as commissioner Chuck Horsager said.
The Tobacco 21 law has a “significant impact” for underage youth with the goals of reducing youth access and lifelong addiction to tobacco, as Pederson said. Another concern is youth’s increased use of e-cigarettes, which relates to the flavors available and their small size, according to Laughlin. In a survey of Minnesota 8th, 9th and 11th graders in 2019, students surveyed in those grade levels in Wadena County said they had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days:
14.7% collectively of students surveyed
5% 8th graders
20% 9th graders
23.1% 11th graders
The first proposed addition noted the clerk’s age for selling tobacco products at either 16 or 18-years-old. The clerk’s age set at 21-years-old was eliminated since many family owned businesses may have teenagers working and the limit could place a “hardship,” as commissioner Jon Kangas said. Another idea was having the clerk’s age be 18 like with alcohol, as Horsager and county attorney Kyra Ladd noted. Commissioners voted in two split votes on the ages of 16 or 18 with Kangas and Bill Stearns for 16 and Horsager and Jim Hofer for 18. Commissioner Sheldon Monson was not present.
“If you do not choose a minimum age of 16 or 18 then it would go to no minimum age (for the clerk),” Keppers said.
The ordinance covers Wadena County including unincorporated areas. Outside of city limits, Menahga is the only area with retailers selling tobacco products, according to Kangas and Ladd. Previously the city of Menahga chose to “defer all enforcement related to this from the city of Menahga to the county,” as Ladd said.
The second proposed addition noted retailers of tobacco products being 500 feet away from youth-oriented facilities. One retailer in the county currently does not meet this criteria but commissioners considered grandfathering in the business or property to exempt them from the proximity portion.
The final proposed addition on banning tobacco flavored products would be beneficial to reducing harm to youth and limiting confusion for retailers with only certain products banned by the Federal Drug Administration currently, according to Keppers.
With another split vote on the retailers' proximity to youth-oriented facilities and flavors, commissioners left the decision to the next board of commissioners. The ordinance without the additions was not passed.
For more information on tobacco prevention and control, visit www.health.state.mn.us/communities/tobacco/index.html.
Pederson also shared a COVID-19 update, noting the arrival of the Pfizer vaccines in Minnesota with specific sites where the vaccine will be distributed from regional health care coalitions to hospitals. The vaccine is first available to health care personnel and people in long-term care facilities. The next options will continue in phases.
Public Health could receive vaccine doses from the Moderna vaccine. The Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold refrigeration, as Pederson said. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, which are about three weeks apart.
“We really feel that we have an essential role to play,” Pederson said after noting Public Health’s previous roles with flu and H1N1 vaccines. “We have good relationships in place and we have nurses with expertise and experience.”
People will still need to follow health precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and good hand hygiene after receiving the vaccine.
With cases and hospitalizations decreasing, the numbers are higher than in the spring, as Pederson said. In November, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Wadena County was “really high” with 525 cases, according to Pederson. There were 40 cases in September. As of Dec. 14, there have been 140 cases. The Wadena Armory COVID-19 free testing site is open through the end of January on specified dates from noon-6 p.m.
For questions on COVID-19 vaccines, visit www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/vaccine.html and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a statistic about e-cigarette usage in Wadena County. The percentage of 8th, 9th and 11th grade students who have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days (collectively out of the students surveyed) is 14.7%, not 48.1%. The Pioneer Journal regrets the error.