Should the City of Northfield continue to sell tobacco to its citizens?

grmb.jpgNot only is the City of Northfield making money off selling a drug to its citizens that’s “proven to be highly addictive, as well as a cause of multiple types of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, circulatory disease and birth defects.”

One of its employees at the Muni has now been cited for selling that addictive drug to a minor, according to this article in this week’s Northfield News.

The names and ages of those cited are listed in the police report published by the Northfield News.

Cashiers failed to follow state law in one third of the 21 businesses Northfield and Dundas police checked last week to ensure they selling weren’t tobacco to minors. Five Northfield and two Dundas cashiers were cited May 21 for selling tobacco products to someone under 18. Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith said officers from both departments cooperated in the effort, which checked 16 business in Northfield, five in Dundas.

In what Smith termed compliance checks, volunteer teens were supervised by plain-clothes police officers. Teens were instructed to go into the business and ask to purchase tobacco. If asked their age or for identification, Smith said, the teens provided accurate information. In Northfield, the chief said, most cashiers cited either failed to ask for identification or didn’t look at it when it was provided. In one instance, the cashier looked at the ID, but typed inaccurate information into the cashier, overriding the system. Smith declined to name that cashier.

Penalties for selling tobacco to a minor are 90 days in jail, $1,000 or both. A second violation in five years is considered a gross misdemeanor and can bring penalties of one year in jail, $3,000 or both. But the cashiers aren’t the only ones facing consequences. Smith said those holding the licenses at offending establishments could face civil penalties or revocation of their license.

The hypocrisy of the City of Northfield profiting from the sale (albeit a paltry $5,000 per year) of an addictive, disease-causing drug to its citizens bothers me.

I wish those in a leadership position in Northfield who care about the health of its citizens, especially our youth, would pressure the City Council to stop.

  • Members of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force (Pat Allen, Katherine Cooper, Ken Engstrom, Patty Gallivan, Luke Hasskamp, Sharon Henry, Joan Janusz, Mary Nelson, Susan Sanderson, Zach Pruitt, Kathy Sandberg.)
  • Board members from the Healthy Community Initiative (Anne Meyer Ruppel, Barb Farmer, Beth Berry, Cathy Berger , Clarita Kell, Eric Lundin, Gary Smith, Hannah Puczko, Jim Blaha, Joe McGowan, Joy Riggs, Julie Bubser, Kathy Sandberg, Linda Oto, Lynn Vincent, Marnie Thompson, Mary Nelson, Scott Richardson, Shari Schreck, Tim Halverson, Zach Pruitt.)
  • Youth members on the Mayor’s Youth Council (Ruth Amerman, Claire Carlson, Sam Dunnewold, Daniella Espinoza, Chris Frost, Josh Goettl, Ryan Hattie, Adrian Lazaro, Lindsay Marosi, Tom Pokorney, Sam Ruby, Brianna Spittle, Siri Thompsons, Yojin Yoon.)
  • Members of the City of Northfield’s Hospital Board (Curt Swenson, Mike Allen, Dixon Bond, Terry Gilbertson, Peggy Hoffman, John Lundblad, Brett Reese, James Schlichting, Gina Washburn.)
  • Youth board members of the Union of Youth (Scotty Barvir, Jena Fredrick, Ruth Amerman, Addy Payne, Zane Anway, Mike Kleve, Joey McGowan, Schuyler Huber, Kellen Kirchberg, Marie Fischer, Gerrit Duys, Andi Sison, Gus DeMann, Abe Henson, Andrea Lovoll.)
  • Adult board members of the Union of Youth (Michael Blaha, David Bly, Jim Evans, Sarah Kaul, Mark Madson, Peter Prenzel-Guthrie, Zach Pruitt, Kiffi Summa, Ted Tuel, Alex Beeby.)
  • Members of the Northfield School Board (Kari Nelson, Noel Stratmoen, Kathryn M. Hargis, Wendy Smith, Diane Cirksena, Paul Hager, Mike Berthelsen.)


  1. Barbara Gentling said:

    Way to go Griff!! And while we’re at it, let’s boycott SuperAmerica for their role in these inflated gas prices. Go to KARE 11 and watch Rick Kupchella’s story from last Wednesday. SA is leading the gouging as they own a refinery that produces most of the gas in the 5 states, own more stations (SA & Marathon), and are the leaders in raising prices “because they can” before holidays, the opening of fishing season, and for whatever whim they fancy. Boycott and ask your congressional leaders to investigate the gouging.

    May 27, 2007
  2. Lance Heisler said:

    MMMmmmm. How would we introduce the sale of alcohol? How about this: “proven to be highly addictive, as well as a cause of multiple types of brain damage, liver disease, traffic fatalities, violent and abusive behavior, and birth defects.” Tobacco or alcohol. Pick your poison and enjoy, courtesy of the City of Northfield.

    May 28, 2007
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Lance, I disagree with you about alcohol. Used in moderation/’as directed’, alcohol causes none of the above problems you listed. But the same can not be said of tobacco. Used in moderation, it still causes health problems and can kill.

    May 28, 2007
  4. John S. Thomas said:

    I would like to see what the courts hand down as a punishment for this offense. My bet is that it will be LESS than the…

    “Penalties for selling tobacco to a minor are 90 days in jail, $1,000 or both.”

    My guess is that this is supposed to mean “UP TO”, and that these individuals will end up with a much smaller fine. This would be a shame, as these folks are doing a great disservice to our community.

    If this law had teeth, and this sentence was actually implemented, I am sure that you would find that ANYONE selling cigarettes would card EVERY SINGLE person, every time.

    In many states, this is the law. If you by cigarettes or booze, you must present ID every time, regardless if your 21 or 99.

    Personally, I feel the individuals should be terminated on the spot for failure to follow both the law, and established corporate policies. The person that overrode the system should get a harsher penalty as well. These stores have it all on tape. The court should obtain these tapes under court order as well.

    I personally think it is bad enough that the city is in the liquor business, but the alternative of having it sold in 50 places is much worse.

    The city should stop selling cigarettes. No Question.

    May 28, 2007
  5. Lance Heisler said:

    Griff, before I respond let me say that my view point on this is directly related to my feeling about government and what it should be about. I use both of these substances, so I do not speak from any moral high ground here.

    I think the key word in both descriptions is “addictive”. And that is the point regarding both substances. The smoker craves nicotine. The alcoholic craves alcohol. The problem with both substances in our society is pervasive. Both are frequently used by large numbers of people to excess in large part because of their addictive properties. It seems to me the cost to society which can be directly traced to both substances is horrendous. In any given community, if you count the cost in lives shortened, lost, or broken (assaults, divorces, etc) from these two killers, I am not at all sure tobacco comes out on top – nor do I think it really matters. That a wide path of destruction in the wake of both exists is well documented. Every day that it is open, the liquor store can and does sell alcohol to alcoholics, people who drink and drive, people who drink and abuse others verbally and physically etc. My point is simply that I think there is something inherently contradictory in having our government, in any form, profit by selling as much as they can of these two drugs.

    May 28, 2007
  6. David Ludescher said:

    If the biggest crime problem Northfield has is the sale of tobacco to underage smokers, in a sting operation, then maybe we have too many police officers.

    Granted, tobacco is a bad drug. But, as long as it remains legal, how are we going to set objective standards to determine in what activities the City should be involved? Should the City require its employees to walk or bike because of pollution from cars is bad? How are officials suppose to know where to draw the line?

    Frankly, I am much more concerned that police officers engage in an illegal acivity (using underage persons to buy cigarettes) than I am in the City’s role in selling cigarettes. That the police should be allowed to break the law to catch law breakers is inherently unfair, and perhaps even ineffective. It is a tremendous waste of resources to go through the whole sting operation. Wouldn’t it just be easier and more effective for the officers to go into the establishments? Why waste all of the officer’s time, and the court time? How about less law enforcement and more policing?

    May 28, 2007
  7. Jerry Bilek said:


    The article stated, these compliance checks are required by law. I don’t that they have to use underage teens to check, but it’s probably the easiest way to do it. It is possible this is the method required.

    Griff-maybe Gary Smith could answer some of the questions raised here.

    May 28, 2007
  8. Marie Fischer said:

    This is a complicated issue that SHOULD have a simple solution. As an advocate for youth, I find it so unfortunate that youth are able to purchase tobacco, and it’s probably the worst aspect of Northfield’s tobacco sales. I have to agree with David Ludescher and say that it’s too difficult to draw a limit around tobacco sales, but we should do anything we can to discontinue the sale to minors. I’m not so sure how I feel about this issue otherwise.

    May 29, 2007
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    David, the city can easily decide to not sell a legal product. Eden Prairie City Manager Scott Neal (former Northfield City Administrator) posted this comment back in January to my faux news blog post about the hospital selling cigarettes at the gift shop:

    Griff: In Eden Prairie we have three municipal liquor stores with gross sales of over $10,000,000 in 2006. We don’t sell tobacco products. We stopped doing that in 2002. We did it for two reasons. One, my City Council there was taking a hard stance on tobacco issues and wished to be free of the hypocrisy of selling tobacco while speaking against it. And two, the net profit wasn’t worth it. I’d be really surprised if the net profit from selling tobacco products at the Northfield Muni was sufficient to make the City want to stay in that business.

    May 30, 2007
  10. Gary Smith said:

    State statutes require tobacco compliance checks annually. We routinely check businesses that we receive citizen complaints about selling to underage individuals, whether it be alcohol or tobacco. The process used is designed by the alcohol and gaming commission and is used throughout the state.

    I take strong exception to Mr. Ludescher’s contention that our officers did something illegal or improper. The law provides for the use of underage individuals under the supervision of a licensed police officer. There is no deception in the process. As mentioned in the News article, if clerks ask the age of the buyer, they tell the truth. If the clerks ask for identification, the buyer gives them their ID that shows they are underage. I would assume that most people would find that preferable than having a police officer lurking about a business with high power glasses watching people covertly through a window and waiting to arrest someone. That process would be considerably more labor intensive that our compliance checks.

    I have always found our businesses to be very cognizant of the need to train their employees and supervise their actions regardless of the regulatory situation. We will continue to work with those businesses to dispense controlled substances through training and compliance checks. The decision to allow the sale of tobacco and alcohol is a public policy matter at both the state and local levels.

    On a broader level, access of these items to underage individuals speaks to a larger social concern. Again a matter of public policy in that legal ages of consumption is set by lawmakers. The issue of proxy purchases by individuals of legal age to then meet underage individuals in the parking lot to provide them with the alcohol/tobacco is also a problem. Our businesses do an excellent job in trying to prevent this. A newly formed group calling themselves the Rice County Enforcement Team has worked to provide adequate training for businesses and encourage the community to assist in preventing proxy purchases.

    May 30, 2007
  11. David Ludescher said:

    The City can easily agree to limit the sale of tobacco, if it were to so chose. The larger legislative question is what objective factors is the City to use in deciding what whether a product or activity should be prohibited by the City when the product is legal?

    Scott Neal’s comment makes a better case for removal of cigarettes. If it doesn’t make money, then there is no need to enter the value judgments of what is good and bad for the citizens.

    The comments made earlier about why allow alcohol and not cigarettes points to the difficulty in making a fair system of public values. Before we start down this slippery slope of regulating activities just because they are bad, we need to clearly define those principles which will permit us to differentiate between activities which order requires the government to control to serve the public good, and activities which are in individual’s best interest, but only serve the “public good” in an indirect way.

    May 30, 2007

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