MOORHEAD — With tears in her eyes, Sanford Health's Respiratory Therapy Manager Becky Anderson described the pain she has seen in those suffering from diseases caused by smoking during her 41-year career.
She listed some of the first names of those who she watched die in their 50s, 60s and 70s — as she put it, "Way too soon."
Thus, speaking on behalf of Sanford, she urged the Moorhead City Council on Tuesday night, Oct. 12, to pass its city ordinance that not only brings the city in compliance with the federal law raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 but also bans all flavored tobacco products from licensed stores in the city starting Jan. 1.
The ban affects menthol cigarettes as well as flavored chewing or smokeless tobacco, vape juices and e-cigarettes in an effort to curb the youth smoking rate, which is 18% for high school students in Moorhead.
The council's vote was 7-1.
A long list of residents spoke in support of the ban in a public hearing on the proposal, including spokeswoman and retired teacher Dee Pretty who had eight other former teachers standing behind her.
Pretty noted how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nicotine harms an adolescent brain up to age 25 by affecting attention span, learning ability and impulse control.
"Nicotine affects every organ of the body," she said.
She said four out of five young people who use tobacco products start out with flavored products.
The ban, she said, would be "a win for the success" of Moorhead students.
Cani Adan, the program development director for the Afro-American Development Association in Moorhead, said access to menthol cigarettes affects people of color at a higher rate.
In a letter to the council, which was one of numerous letters submitted in support of the ban, Adan also said the tobacco industry targets young people with menthol-flavored products to "make it easier to start smoking and harder to stop."
In another letter sent to the council, Moorhead Superintendent of Schools Brandon Lunak backed up Adan's claims writing that of Black people who smoke, 88% smoke menthol cigarettes compared to 25% of smokers overall.
Adan gave another example, describing how the trauma from the civil war in Somalia and resettling in the U.S. pushed 24% of East Africans in Minnesota to smoke cigarettes or hookah compared to 13.8% of Minnesota's overall population.
Adan said Moorhead could be at the "forefront of helping to prevent another generation from becoming lifelong tobacco users."
A mother from Dilworth, Kirstin Wegenast, said her son became secretive when he started vaping in high school. When she visited him at college, he couldn't make it through a meal without going outside to vape.
She said the tobacco industry has "failed our youth" by tempting them with the "fun flavors" of nicotine products.
There were some who opposed the ban on flavored products.
Janine Hanson said she didn't like the "overregulation and overreach" of banning flavored cigarettes but supported raising the legal age to 21.
Laurie Christianson said she didn't believe removing the flavored products from stores in Moorhead would stop younger people from obtaining and using them. Rather, she said, students should be educated and laws should be enforced.
Council member Matt Gilbertson, the lone vote against the ban, said, "You can't regulate behavior. ... Prohibition didn't work, and this won't, either."
Gilbertson said in two years he would like to see how tobacco among Moorhead high school students compares to Fargo, where the high school rate is about 22% and there isn't a ban on flavored products.
He said it will only drive more people to Fargo to buy menthol cigarettes.
Cigarettes are $10 a pack in most stores in Moorhead compared to about $6 in Fargo, he noted. He said it hurts the sale of other convenience store products, too, when customers have to go across the river.
Council member Chuck Hendrickson, however, changed his opinion on the flavored product ban which he wanted to see phased in later after hearing the retired teachers speak. He said his father, who was a teacher, died from smoking, and he wished his dad was still here.
"If this sets up a roadblock for one child to stop smoking, I'm for it," he said.