Business & Economy

Minneapolis approves law raising cigarette price to at least $15 per pack

Racks of cigarettes for sale in a store
Racks of cigarettes show current prices at A to Z Tobacco in south Minneapolis, as pictured on Sunday. The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Thursday that requires retailers to sell a pack of cigarettes for at least $15.
Cari Spencer | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Thursday that requires retailers to sell a pack of cigarettes for at least $15, which is likely the highest required price in the country.

The ordinance’s backers and city staff say it will encourage smokers to quit and will save money that would otherwise be spent treating smoking-related illnesses. Some members of the public have expressed concerns that the additional costs would be borne by working people addicted to tobacco and force community gathering spaces to close.

The bill was authored by Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, who says she understands concerns about the increased costs to residents, but has seen the impact that tobacco-related illnesses have had on her family’s lives. 

“When I work on a policy that raises the price knowing that people like my sister will quit smoking, I’m proud of that. I’m excited about that,” Vetaw said. “I’m excited that this council is taking this public health crisis serious.”

Other products like chewing tobacco, snuff and cigars are affected by the new ordinance, but tobacco vapes are not. Some council members including Council Members Katie Cashman and Aurin Chowdhury expressed an interest in working on proposals to ensure that retailers selling vapes and other products follow similar requirements.

Council members also banned the use of discounts or coupons for tobacco products. In a statement, Minneapolis Health Department Deputy Commissioner Heidi Ritchie said she’s optimistic the ordinance will help save lives. 

“We know that young adult nonsmokers in Minnesota who receive tobacco coupons are twice as likely to become smokers,” Ritchie said. “Due to the addictive nature of commercial tobacco products, it’s far more effective to lower tobacco deaths if we prevent people from ever starting to use them.”

The council also increased the penalty for businesses that violate the ordinance to $500 for a first violation, which would increase with each additional violation until the business’ license is revoked. 

St. Paul in 2021 passed an ordinance that set a $10 minimum price on a pack of cigarettes. 

Data from St. Paul’s ordinance shows that it wasn’t enough of a price increase to deter many smokers, said Evalyn Carbrey, a senior public health specialist with the Minneapolis Health Department. 

During an earlier council meeting, Carbrey emphasized that the price requirement is not a tax, but will be kept by retailers to help cushion any disruptions to their businesses. 

Similar ordinances are common in other cities around the country including New York City, which requires retailers to sell cigarettes for $13 a pack.  

Council members did carve out a partial exemption for Anthony’s Pipe and Cigar Lounge in the 10th Ward, which will allow customers to continue sampling cigars in the space, although starting on Dec. 1 it will limit the sampling time to 15 minutes per visit or within a 60 minute period. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement that he supports the ordinance. 

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