Using Local Data to Pass Policies for Tobacco Prevention in Golden Valley, Minnesota
In October 2019, the suburban city of Golden Valley in Hennepin County, Minnesota passed a number of comprehensive tobacco prevention policies. These policies covered a broad range of prevention strategies, including raising the minimum legal sales age to 21, banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, increasing tobacco product prices, capping the number of tobacco retailer licenses issued, increasing violation penalty fees for tobacco retailers, and more. In June 2020, they passed additional regulations under the city’s zoning code to restrict the location of tobacco retailers and their proximity to youth-oriented facilities.
Identifying the need
Collecting local data was key to identifying a need for point-of-sale policies in the community.
A 2016 Student Survey showed that 15% of 11th grade students across two local school districts serving Golden Valley reported use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. Among those students, 32% reported use of menthol tobacco products, and 30% reported use of other flavored tobacco products.
Minnesota law at the time prohibited the sale of tobacco products to persons under age 18. Most young people obtain tobacco from others, yet many report purchasing products themselves. The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey (statewide) showed that:
- 62% of high school and 57% of middle school e-cigarette users got their e-cigarettes from friends.
- 32% of underage high school students who use e-cigarettes got or bought their e-cigarettes from retail outlets. The most common retail outlet reported was vape shops (18%).
- 19% of underage high school students who are current smokers bought their own cigarettes.
These statistics underscored the need for reducing access and enforcing existing regulations across the state, including in Golden Valley.
In March 2019, Hennepin County Public Health (HCPH) conducted store assessments at the city of Golden Valley’s 14 licensed tobacco retailers. The data collected from these assessments, along with maps of retailer locations, were used as education tools for Golden Valley’s City Council and community on the tobacco landscape and its’ impact on citizens.
Through using mapping data from Counter Tools’ Minnesota Store Mapper, a new understanding of the landscape of tobacco retailers in Golden Valley was cultivated. As of March 2019, the mapping data showed that Golden Valley:
- Had a density of 1 retailer per 1,537 residents
- Had 1 retailer within 1000 feet of a school
- Had two retailers within 500 feet of another retailer licensed by Golden Valley and two within 500 feet of another retailer licensed by a bordering city
In addition to these data points, below is a visual of tobacco retailers near schools in Golden Valley from Counter Tools’ Minnesota Store Mapper:
Golden Valley city staff referenced these maps from the Store Mapper, and also created their own map further detailing the presence of tobacco retailers in the city:
These data points and visualizations help show where tobacco retailers are located and their accessibility to certain populations like youth.
Along with this mapping data, HCPH identified significant observations about tobacco advertising, the presence of flavored tobacco products, and tobacco products at low pricing through doing store assessments. Out of the 14 tobacco retailers assessed in the city in March 2019,
- Nearly all (86%) sold menthol cigarettes and over half (57%) sold other flavored tobacco products
- Over one-third sold single cigars; all of the retailers had this product available for less than $1.00
- 50% had price promotions on tobacco, most often for menthol cigarettes and smokeless products
- Common practices were employed that appeal to youth: tobacco products placed near youth-oriented products (21%), tobacco products in self-service displays (7%) and tobacco product’ advertising within three feet of the floor, or kids’ eye-level (14%)
Engaging the community
In July 2019, the city of Golden Valley began community outreach, asking residents to provide input on regulation of tobacco sales through an online survey. This work was spearheaded by the City Attorney and Communications Director with the goal of balancing different community perspectives and basing the city’s policymaking in community support. In August 2019, the city hosted an interactive public forum on the regulation of tobacco sales, including education on tobacco prevention policies under consideration by the city. During this forum, representatives from the City, Hennepin County Public Health, the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota (ANSR), and local tobacco retailers were present to provide information and answer questions. Golden Valley gathered input and feedback from community members and businesses who attended. In order to expand their reach, the city also live streamed elements of this forum and continued to promote the online survey to the community to gain input. They gathered all of this feedback into a Regulation of Tobacco Sales Community Input Report to help inform policy development.
The city also made significant efforts to talk with tobacco retailers, building relationships with them and honoring their thoughts and opinions throughout the process. While they did get some pushback from retailers over financial impacts of the policies, the city talked with the retailers about their role in the community being about more than selling tobacco and encouraged them to look towards the future and pivot away from tobacco in their sales.
Making the case
All the data gathered (including data related to store assessments, tobacco retailer mapping, community and student surveys, health statistics, research etc.) and the creation of subsequent reports provided a foundation of evidence that policymakers were able to use in considering the proposed policies.
In addition, the youth e-cigarette use epidemic and the ways that e-cigarette companies like Juul were marketing to teens helped showcase the need for these policies, especially making the case for banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, which most teens initiate tobacco use with.
During hearings, doctors and health care institutions provided crucial testimony on the health impacts of smoking and vaping to help emphasize the life and death nature of the issues at hand. Many members of the statewide coalition “Minnesotans for a Smokefree Generation” submitted letters of support for the policy changes, and ANSR organized a local coalition of people who live and work in Golden Valley to advocate for the changes as well.
Advocates were also able to point to similar policies that had been implemented in other cities nearby and encouraged the City Council to go ahead with the proposed policies in order not to be left behind.
Establishing the policies
The Public Health Law Center (PHLC) provided their expert review of Golden Valley’s proposed policies. In addition, the Golden Valley City Attorney attended a workshop provided by the PHLC on effective tobacco control practices and how to develop a model ordinance. The City Attorney was another key player, providing legal support, guidance, and approval to the city throughout the policymaking process.
Thanks to all of their community mobilization efforts, in October 2019, the city of Golden Valley passed a number of comprehensive tobacco prevention policies, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. The policies include:
- raised the minimum legal sales age (MLSA) to 21
- banned the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol/mint/wintergreen
- restricted the sale of cigars, sold individually or as a multi-unit package, for less than $3.00 per cigar
- placed a cap on the number of tobacco retailer licenses issued at 8 retailers
- made pharmacies ineligible for receiving a tobacco license
- prohibited smoking/vaping for the purpose of sampling tobacco products
- prohibited the distribution of samples of any tobacco product free of charge or at a nominal cost
- increased penalties for violations (including the lookback period, fines, and suspensions)
- increased the licensing fee to cover the cost of additional compliance checks
- added language about child protective packaging, general updating of definitions, and licensure requirements
Further, in June 2020, the city of Golden Valley passed the following additional tobacco regulations under the city’s zoning code, which went into effect the same month:
- tobacco retailers would be limited to the city’s commercial zoning district and considered restricted use (i.e., new retailers could not be located in mixed use districts)
- a 500-foot proximity restriction between tobacco retailers and youth-oriented facilities, defined as schools, parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields
HCPH and the city of Golden Valley continue to work towards policy change and are currently in the process of measuring the impact of policy over time.