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Renville's efforts effective, say supporters

OLIVIA - Renville County's is a leader in rural Minnesota in its efforts to prevent tobacco use by youth.

Members of the Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs, which originally drafted the county's tobacco ordinance in 2015, outlined the progress that has been made in a presentation to the Renville County board of commissioners on Tuesday.

The county's ordinance forced retailers to raise the minimum price of individual cigars from 89 cents to $2.10 to discourage purchases by youths. It also imposes a first-time fine of $400 on retailers who sell tobacco to minors.

RELATED: Tobacco ordinance conflicts with developments in City of Renville

The county's efforts are showing results, members of the alliance told board members. Smoking rates in Renville County are lower than the state average.

Recent efforts to educate retailers on the ordinance are improving compliance rates. Two years ago, about one-third of retailers failed a compliance test by selling tobacco to undercover buyers. Last year the failure rate dropped to 10 percent.

Convenience stores and their displays of flavored tobacco products are a concern for the alliance. Flavored tobacco products are aimed at youth, and 70 percent of youths shop at convenience stores at least once a week, Erin Simmons, with the American Lung Association, told the commissioners.

The county's public health department also voiced its support for the county's ordinance. "This ordinance is not in conflict with economic development,'' said public health director Jill Bruns in a written statement to the commissioners.

If the Casey's and Dollar General stores are licensed for tobacco products, the City of Renville would be considered a "tobacco swamp'' in terms of the availability of the product, according to Leah Schueler with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership. The city of 1,202 would have four retail outlets for tobacco.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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