Local activists argue that despite recent statewide tax hikes, the tobacco industry continues to target inner-city youth with cheap, candy flavored tobacco products. Cigarillos in particular, cost significantly less than a regular pack cigarettes and are better at covering up the harsh taste, even though they are more detrimental to one's health. And despite restrictions on advertising, smoking cigarillos continues to play a heavy role in hip-hop culture and social media.
Many hope that the City of Minneapolis will emulate an initiative taken by Brooklyn Center to make it more difficult for youth to purchase flavored tobacco products. The city ordinance changes had originally been recommended by Brooklyn Center Police Chief Kevin Benner because of the frequent use of cigarillos as drug paraphernalia.
On April 28, the Brooklyn Center City Council voted to replace existing ordinances relating to the sale of tobacco and tobacco-related products. It went into effect June 1 and states that, "it shall be a violation ... for any retail establishment to sell, offer for sale, or distribute a single cigar unless the cigar is sold in an original package of at least five cigars" unless the smaller cigars were individually sold at a minimum price point of $2.10.
It replaces all of the language with updated provisions, including tightened language on the definitions of tobacco-related products and terms, procedures need to procure a license, legal restrictions relating to the sale of tobacco products to underage consumers, and mandatory compliance checks. Also added to the ordinance was a ban on the sale of individual cigarettes, which have traditionally been a cheaper means of tobacco use over purchasing an entire pack.
A summer tobacco summit was hosted on July 17 by the Breathe Free North Youth (BFN) at the University of Minnesota's Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (2001 Plymouth Ave. N) to discuss the results of a youth tobacco use survey and whether the ordinance changes in Brooklyn Center could work in Minneapolis.
BFN is a tobacco education program that is working with youth to help reduce the number of stores in north Minneapolis that sell flavored cigarettes, singles cigarettes, and other tobacco product that disproportionately increase tobacco use among residents in north Minneapolis. During the last year, BFN surveyed 530 youths in north Minneapolis on their tobacco use. 279 of them were under the age of 18 and said that they had used a tobacco product at some point.
Thirty-five percent of those who admitted to regularly smoking say that they use flavored tobacco products "most of the time." While 31 pecent said they have used and electronic cigarette. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed admitted to having tried their first tobacco product between the ages of 11 and 13; some of them even younger.
Traditional surveys tend to under represent youth tobacco use because of the fear that an answer may not remain confidential. Starnisha McClellan, 18-years-old, said she has been involved with BFN since she was 12 and was one of the leads in the youth survey.
"I so am grateful to be a part of this program because I love being able to work in the community," said McClellan. "(Our surveys) show that youth prevention needs to start earlier."
The survey also included assessing the marketing tactics of the 30 retailers selling tobacco products within north Minneapolis. They found that regular cigarettes and flavored cigarillos have the most shelf space and are most frequently given price promotions. However, the surveyors also discovered that three of the stores did even not have a tobacco license. In addition, many of the youth respondents admitted to having personally bought a tobacco product from a store while under the age of 18.
Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang (Ward 5), the first Hmong-American elected to the Minneapolis City Council and whose ward includes the North Loop area up to the Jordan neighborhood, believes that the change made by Brooklyn Center is a good stepping stone for other cites to follow with similar initiatives.
"We have to create a world where smoking is the exception and not the norm," said Yang. "It's disturbing to me that there are retailers selling tobacco without a license. It means that we aren't doing our job. My fear is, however, that when you create these types of regulations it has the tendency to disproportionately affect people of color, but the health risks are too great for us to not do anything. I am committed to passing some type of ordinance to address this issue in the coming year."