OLIVIAIt has been a long time in the making, but Renville County has now approved an updated tobacco ordinance aimed at keeping tobacco products out of the hands of those under age 21.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners approved the new ordinance following a public hearing Tuesday. It matches state law in terms of the penalties it imposes for violations, according to Jill Bruns, public health director, and Annie Tepfer, with the Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Tobacco.

Tepfer told the commissioners that the measures in the ordinance are all about keeping youth from getting tobacco products. More than 90 percent of adult smokers started before they were age 18, Tepfer said.

“We want to protect these kids from experimenting at a young age,” said Tepfer.

The ordinance imposes penalties in line with state law to prevent the sale of tobacco products to persons under age 21. License holders would be fined $300 for a first offense; $600 for a second offense within 36 months; and $1,000 for a third offense in the time period.

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The two had met twice previously with the commissioners to review earlier recommendations for the ordinance. A committee formed by the county to develop the ordinance had recommended that some of the fines to be greater than those imposed by state law. The penalties were reduced in response to the concerns expressed by commissioners.

The new ordinance reduces the distance that a tobacco vender must be from a youth-oriented location, such as schools, parks or churches. The newly adopted ordinance reduces the distance from 1,000 feet to 500 feet.

The issue over distance proved contentious in 2017, when the city of Renville adopted its own tobacco ordinance and opted out of the county ordinance due to the distance requirement. The county's 1,000-foot requirement at that time would not have allowed two stores under development to sell tobacco products. The Dollar General and Casey's General Store in Renville County are both within 1,000 feet of youth-oriented locations.

There are 17 licensed tobacco vendors in the county, and all but three use scanning devices to assure the age of buyers, according to information previously presented to the County Board.

Bruns is retiring at month’s end after a 37-year career as public health director for the county. She thanked the commissioners for their support of initiatives such as this to promote the well-being of county residents.