Rock County gets tougher on tobacco
LUVERNE -- In an effort to regulate the sale of tobacco and counter the effects of tobacco companies' marketing to minors, the Rock County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday morning an ordinance restricting the sale of tobacco and tobacco-like products.
Erin Simmons of the American Lung Association praised the county's effort.
"Conversations like this are happening around the state, and I want to applaud your leadership on this," she said.
The new resolution will be in effect throughout the county, though any related ordinances passed by a Rock County municipality would supersede it.
Prior to Tuesday's meeting, the county hosted two public hearings and a work session to help draft the ordinance. In it, the number of tobacco licenses available in Rock County will be one per 500 county residents. Based on the 2010 census data, 19 tobacco licenses would available in the county.
If a new business applies for a license and the maximum number of licenses has already been issued, the applicant would be put on a waiting list until a non-renewal or revocation..
The board also included a restriction on the acceptable proximity for a tobacco retailer to be from places frequented by minors.
Language in the ordinance stipulates that in a city of more than 2,500 residents, tobacco retailers may not be within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, public parks or houses of worship.
The ordinance also prohibits the sale of blunt wraps, imitation tobacco products and nicotine or lobelia delivery devices, as well as the sale of tobacco products from vending machines or through self-service.
A public hearing was hosted prior to the county commissioners' board meeting, with many local owners of tobacco retail stores in attendance. Concerns were raised as to how the ordinance would impact potential economic growth, especially if a new owner were to buy a tobacco-selling business and all the county tobacco licenses were already issued.
In the originally proposed ordinance, the new owner would have had to apply for a new license and be put at the end of a waiting list.
"If someone is looking at our store in Jackson or our store here (in Luverne), they are going to buy the store in Jackson, because you aren't taking a revenue stream away from the store in Jackson," Expressway Manager Daric Zimmerman said.
Another business owner clarified that the request to the county wasn't to increase the number of issued licenses. Rather, he said, a new owner should be given the option of applying for a tobacco license first in the event of a sale.
Prior to voting, board members discussed comments from Zimmerman and other business owners, ultimately modifying the ordinance to reflect their concerns.
Herb N Legend owner Terry Grey also asked for discussion about what would happen to inventory that would be restricted with the new ordinance.
Grey said he began cutting back on the amount of restricted goods kept in stock since talks about the new ordinance began. Ninety days would be a reasonable amount of time to sell inventory currently on hand, he stated.
In the originally proposed ordinance, store employees had to be older than 18 to sell tobacco. Business owners pointed out that they employ people younger than that who are often required to work alone.
The commissioners agreed to move the age restriction for selling tobacco back to 16.
After business owners shared their concerns, Paula Bloemendaal, Southwest Health and Human Services Tobacco Control and Policy Coordinator, applauded the cooperation of the board and the tobacco retailers.
"I would like to thank the board for their consideration and the retailers for their respect for this whole process," she said. "Even though it isn't an easy choice, it's an easy choice for kids. The choice is either we can choose to side with the tobacco industry that targets kids to become replacement smokers, or we can choose our kids and that's always what's best for our community."
Other topics of discussion at the meeting included approval of two liquor licenses, an update from Southern Prairie Purchasing Alliance and another from the Land Management Office's assistant director about the feedlot program.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.