Linn County supervisors voted down restrictions on tobacco promotions and the sale of some products, but may consider regulating how candy-like dissolvable tobacco products are displayed in stores.
Supervisors Ben Rogers, Brent Oleson, and John Harris voted against the three proposed ordinances, with Lu Barron and Linda Langston in the minority. The vote came after about 40 minutes’ worth of public comment from a dozen speakers, 10 of whom urged supervisors to adopt the restrictions.
The new rules, recommended by the county’s public health board, would have banned the sale of dissolvable tobacco products and Viceroy cigarettes, “buy one, get one” sales in which two products are sold for a combined price, and the free distribution of tobacco samples at age-restricted temporary structures – usually tents.
Tobacco industry critics say the dissolvable strips deliver nicotine in a form designed to look and taste like candy, targetting younger users. Dissolvable products, sold as orbs, sticks, or strips, haven’t hit the local market yet.
“Younger, underage people are going to get their hands on it, and they’re going to use it,” Marion High School senior Sarah Keeton told the board. “They look so similar to Tic Tacs or candy, and people are not really aware of these products.”
Lois Wheeler of Cedar Rapids said the dissolvables will make it harder for parents to know if their children are using tobacco products.
“How is a parent supposed to know a child has begun to get into it?” Wheeler said.
Both anti-restriction speakers were tobacco retailers. Adam Smith of Guppy’s on the Go said a county ban would send would-be customers to neighboring counties.
“We’re not going to keep them out of the county, we’re just going to suppress their sale,” Smith said.
Susan Jobson, manager the Tobacco Outlet store on Mount Vernon Road SE, said unaccompanied youths under 18 are banned from the chain’s stores.
“We understand the legal and moral obligations of selling tobacco products,” said Jobson. “These products are not illegal. We don’t want to get at a competitive disadvantage.”
Board of Health Vice Chairman Brian Murphy said some of the new dissolvables deliver up to four times the nicotine of a cigarette and were designed by the industry to work around states’ restrictions on the display of cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
“If they wanted to, they could actually place them in the candy aisle,” Murphy said. “The tobacco industry has been very good at staying ahead of the regulations. We really don’t want to broaden the marketplace.”
Langston said she’s seen dissolvables sold next to candy in other states and displayed some packages resembling those for gum or candy – including one chocolate-flavored dissolvable product.
“If it were an adult making a choice about getting a tobacco product, you would put it in a package that looks like (a cigarette pack),” said Langston, D-Cedar Rapids. “We say this is for adults. I don’t believe it.”
Oleson, R-Marion, said he voted against the rules out of libertarian principles.
“I believe folks should be accountable for their actions,” Oleson said. “You’re taking a choice away from adults.”
“Adults have the right to make a choice,” said Harris, R-Palo, who was participating from home where he’s recuperating from cancer surgery. “I don’t think it’s a job for Linn County. It’s a parenting issue.”
Barron, D-Cedar Rapids, said she started sneaking cigarettes from her mother’s purse at about 15. She’s since quit smoking, but urged supervisors to “show leadership” as the county did with the registration of beer kegs.
Rogers, D-Cedar Rapids, said the county should address more pressing health issues such as obesity and alcoholism.
“This has been a difficult decision,” Roger said, but he said the rules affected “a legal product that requires an ID.”
But Rogers said he would consider Langston’s suggestion the county adopt a stricter rule on dissolvables’ retail display, “so when they are put out, they’re not put out by the gum.”