Nobles County considers banning sales of flavored vape cartridges, drug paraphernalia
Nobles County is updating its tobacco ordinance to comply with state and federal laws, but has options to ban sales of flavored vape cartridges found to be attractive to minors as well as glassware such as pipes and bongs.
WORTHINGTON — Nobles County Community Services staff working on revisions to the county’s tobacco ordinance sought direction from commissioners Tuesday on potential bans on selling flavored vape cartridges and drug paraphernalia such as glassware.
No action was taken during the work session, but county commissioners asked to get an updated ordinance proposal at a future meeting.
Revisions to the tobacco ordinance are being made in order to comply with the requirement raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products in Minnesota from 18 to 21, consistent with federal law. As such, county staff requested input from commissioners on potential directions the ordinance could take.
“Right now we have a problem with youth vaping in our area,” said Claire Henning, health educator and Statewide Health Improvement Partnership coordinator for Nobles County, noting that more than half of high school students have tried vaping.
A county ban on flavored vape cartridges would affect two Worthington businesses, as well as two other businesses that would like to bring those types of products in, Henning said. One of the businesses derives more than 70% of its sales from them.
It is already illegal to sell those products to minors, noted Commissioner Justin Ahlers, adding “I don’t support closing any Nobles County businesses as long as they’re not selling to minors.”
Rather than banning all flavored vaping products outright, the ordinance could be written to ban specific flavors attractive to children, like vanilla or chocolate, or grandfathering in existing businesses to allow them to continue selling the products. Requiring potential customers entering a store that sells the products to be age 21 or older is another option that could be put in the ordinance.
County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp said a representative from a tobacco retailers’ association has inquired about when a potential ordinance could be voted on.
The county board is also considering updating its language about items commonly used to consume drugs, called “drug paraphernalia” in the commissioner briefing and “glass art” during the discussion, likely referring to pipes, bongs and hookahs. According to county staff, there is an individual who would like to sell such items in the area.
“We don’t need an ‘artwork’ shop in town,” Ahlers said, referring to the glassware.
Sheriff Ryan Kruger said that for nearly every search warrant his office carried out, “there was ‘artwork’ that was used to ingest marijuana and methamphetamine.”
Vape cartridges can also be filled with THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces the high.
County Attorney Joe Sanow spoke about lawsuits challenging other local government tobacco ordinances, and said most of the court decisions thus far have been in favor of the ordinances.
A third area of discussion for potential tobacco ordinance revision is how far sales of tobacco products must be from youth-oriented facilities such as schools and licensed center-based daycares.
As it was a work session, commissioners took no action but expressed the intent to vote on the issue in the future.
In other news Tuesday, the county board:
* Continues to pare down its levy, which was preliminarily set at 10% with the agreement it would be greatly reduced from that level. While discussion will continue until a formal vote can be taken at a later meeting, currently the levy seems likely to be increased an estimated 4.902% from last year’s, or $15.59 million.
* Agreed to increase the county’s wage for temporary workers in order to remain competitive with other employers. Currently, they make $14 an hour; one commissioner suggested increasing that to $16. Commissioner Robert Demuth Jr. noted that a local sandwich shop is starting employees at $17 an hour. Commissioners will need to approve a specific figure at a future meeting.
* Discussed funding a proposed fiber-to-home project with a portion of its American Recovery Plan Act money, bringing broadband services to underserved areas in Nobles County.