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E-cig ban approved in Alexandria

Todd Jensen

Those who want to vape in indoor public places in Alexandria will soon have to go outside.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council gave final approval to a new ordinance that prohibits the use of e-cigarettes, e-cigars or e-pipes in public places that already prohibit cigarette smoking, including restaurants, bars, retail stores, commercial establishments, hospitals, nursing homes, auditoriums, common areas of rental apartment buildings and other places that are listed under Minnesota's Clean Indoor Air Act.

The vote was the same as the preliminary approval the ban received on Oct. 23. Council members Bobbie Osterberg, Bob Kuhlman and Dave Benson voted for it while Todd Jensen and Virgil Batesole opposed it.

There wasn't a public hearing this time — just a passionate plea from Jensen, the only smoker on the council. He pressed the council to stop imposing "social morals" on people with an ordinance that he said goes beyond the authority of state and federal government.

"I urge all of you to reconsider passing this and starting down this slippery slope of over-regulation," Jensen said.

Jensen said the issue wasn't about health. "We've received numerous documents from both sides of the issue, supporting their health-related stance and there is not a single person on this council smart enough to make an intelligent health-related decision based on the information we've been supplied."

Jensen said he has a problem with Horizon Public Health and one of its educators, Amy Reineke. He said they keep trying to eat away at people's rights. As an example, he said that a short time ago, the council was asked to consider banning the sale of vaping products within 1,000 feet of school, churches and daycares. "They just keep ... pushing above and beyond what the state has even been willing to do so far," he said.

Jensen added that his issue with Reineke goes beyond that. He said that she was so "zealous in pursuit of getting her way that she goes too far and crosses lines."

Days before the Oct. 23 meeting, Reineke emailed all the council members and asked to speak to them individually by phone to lobby her stance, Jensen said. If she did "chain lobby" and share with council members what other council members told her, this would come "dangerously close" to violating the state's open meeting law, Jensen said.

Jensen also raised concerns about how the ordinance will be enforced.

"Are you truly intending to ask business owners to police this for you?" Jensen asked the council. "Or do you intend to ask our police chief, with his limited manpower and resources?"

He also questioned how the city would educate out-of-town visitors about an ordinance that doesn't match state law.

"Do you plan on putting up signs at the city limits saying, 'Welcome to Alexandria. Here's our laws. If you don't like them, leave?'" Jensen said.

Jensen ended his statement by urging the mayor to follow the lead of what happened in St. Cloud when it voted 4-3 to raise the minimum vaping age from 18 to 21. The St. Cloud mayor stood up to the council and refused to sign it.

"I only hope, if this council does not reconsider its stance, that our mayor has that same strength and fortitude and says this is not our place to act as if we're smarter than the state," Jensen said.

Kuhlman responded to Jensen's comments about Reineke contacting council members by noting that he "won't close the door" to any citizen who wants to talk to him.

The new ordinance will take effect Jan. 1. Those who violate any portion of it will face a misdemeanor penalty.

The ordinance also attempts to resolve an oddity in the local rules regarding e-cigarettes: Infinite Vapor in Alexandria offers sampling of e-cigarettes, which it is legally allowed to do under state law, but since there are no walls separating it from a tattoo parlor that's in the same building, it would violate the clean air policy if it's approved.

The new policy states e-cigarette stores that share space with another place of employment have until Jan. 1, 2019, to comply with the policy. This gives Infinite Vapor 14 months to find a new location or discontinue the sampling.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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