Towns Try to “Snuff Out” Cigarette Machines
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The first state to ban indoor smoking except for designated areas is now taking the lead nationally in trying to snuff out cigarette machines - or at least keep them out of youngsters’ reach.
Since the St. Paul suburb of White Bear Lake passed the state’s first ban on cigarette vending machines in October, at least 20 other Minnesota cities have prohibited or restricted the machines.
The restrictions are part of a grass-roots movement for a smoke-free society, said Jean Forster, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.
″It’s captured the imagination of local communities,″ she said. ″It’s something they can do at their level. There are a lot of places watching what’s happening in Minnesota.″
A measure pending in Congress, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Luken, D-Ohio, would ban cigarette machines in any location accessible to people under 18.
Testimony at a hearing last year cited a National Automatic Merchandising Association report that only 2.5 percent of teen-age smokers buy their cigarettes from machines.
But advocates of cigarette machine bans say any percentage is significant.
″It may not stop kids from smoking, but it puts another roadblock in the way,″ said White Bear Lake Mayor Jerry Briggs.
A few other states and communities outside Minnesota have instituted or are considering cigarette machine bans. But Angela Mickel, director of the Tobacco-Free America Legislative Clearinghouse in Washington, D.C., said the local campaigns in Minnesota are the most widespread she’s seen.
″Minnesota is looked at as a leader in health advocacy,″ she said.
In 1975, the state passed the nation’s first Clean Indoor Air Act. The law restricting indoor smoking was a model for laws across the country.
White Bear Lake and Bloomington are among at least eight Minnesota cities banning cigarette machines altogether.
Others have enacted softer restrictions. Redwood Falls bans the machines from ″public places.″ Preston restricts them to places licensed to sell liquor. Excelsior requires that machines be under constant supervision by employees.
The local measures were almost nullified last month when Minnesota lawmakers considered a proposal that would have overridden local restrictions for the sake of consistent statewide regulation.
The bill that passed instead preserves local governments’ power to ban the machines while tightening restrictions statewide.
That measure, which awaits Gov. Rudy Perpich’s signature, requires electronic locks on machines that a business’s employees can activate and requires that the machines be kept where workers can monitor their use.
Walker Merryman, vice president of the Tobacco Institute, a Washington trade association for cigarette manufacturers, said the tobacco industry has taken no position on the matter. ″It’s an issue that pertains to the vendors,″ he said.
But he added that the bans are no surprise. ″Minnesota has a certain history of being receptive to any anti-smoking initiative,″ Merryman said.
The vending machine industry argued unsuccessfully before state lawmakers that minors can be protected without a ban.
″We’re looking for uniformity,″ said Tom Briant, lawyer for the Minnesota Coalition for Responsible Vending Sales. ″We think it would be in the public interest to regulate it on a statewide basis.″
Briant said about 275 people could lose their jobs by allowing bans throughout the state. But anti-smoking activists say bans are the only way to keep minors from buying cigarettes from vending machines.
Jordan Cushing, a 16-year-old Minneapolis sophomore, said she knows many teen-agers whose addiction began by purchasing cigarettes from machines.
″It’s really, really easy,″ said Cushing, who has worked with anti- smoking groups. ″If the machines are taken away, it would make a big difference.″
She said any potential loss of jobs is outweighed by health concerns. ″Their main argument is money, but these are lives, lives that haven’t really even had the chance to get started,″ she said.