The city of Bloomington, already a leader on tobacco regulation in Minnesota, is looking to phase out the sale of tobacco products within city limits altogether.
The City Council voted Monday to end the sale of flavored tobacco products beginning in January 2022, while also setting a sunset on all tobacco licenses beginning in June 2022. At that time, when a store with a tobacco license closes, that license will expire and will not be replaced.
Acting Public Health Administrator Nick Kelley said the sunset would eliminate the presence of tobacco in the city and the risk of tobacco use among youth. He said only two cities in California have passed similar laws on tobacco licenses.
"We would be the first here in Minnesota to go down that road," he said. "Eventually this would result in Bloomington not having tobacco retailers at some point in the future — it will take several years for that to occur."
The ban on flavored tobacco products and sunset on new licenses are the latest in a series of steps Bloomington leaders have taken in recent years to reduce tobacco use in the city.
In 2017, Bloomington became the third city in Minnesota to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 — a measure that became state law in 2020. Bloomington was the first city in the metro to outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants in 2004, three years before the state took action.
Council Member Shawn Nelson asked how the new regulations would impact businesses and whether business owners had any input on the regulations. Five current tobacco licensees provided feedback, but most conversations were with community members and not business owners, Kelley said.
In August 2020, the city's public health division hosted two listening sessions, with only six residents attending, including two parents of teens and four young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Many residents and organizations sent letters supporting or opposing the regulations.
The Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers shared data from the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey of 11th-graders in the Bloomington Public School District that showed traditional tobacco products "are not the issue because use rates of these products are at historic lows." About 97% of students said they did not smoke a cigarette in the last 30 days.
ClearWay Minnesota reports a 35% reduction in the adult smoking rate over the past two decades. But while cigarette use among teens remains low, according to ClearWay, use of e-cigarettes and vaping products is rising.
Mike Alhataba, owner of Oxboro Market, a family-owned tobacco shop in Bloomington for 20 years, said the new regulations will push his customers into nearby cities like Richfield and Eagan to purchase flavored tobacco, which he said makes up 90% of his business.
Alhataba said he recently signed a new lease to open a second location in Bloomington's Southtown Shopping Center, but is now considering moving his business to Eagan.
"This definitely will put us out of business," Alhataba said. "Kill the local guys after 20 years. It's very sad news."
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751