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Public Health Nurse Brea Hamdorf joined the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners for the Health and Human Services Board meeting on Sept. 24 to give an update on the recent Congratulate and Educate tobacco compliance checks completed throughout the county in June.

Under direct supervision, a minor attempted to purchase tobacco, tobacco-related devices, electronic delivery devices or nicotine delivery products. Of the 19 tobacco licensed vendors identified by Aitkin County Public Health, 15 were compliant during the checks. There are about 40 vendors total in the county, Hamdorf said.

The Congratulate and Educate checks differs from regulatory compliance checks because no fine or penalty is given for non-compliance, Hamdorf explained. Instead, educational material is presented immediately to the selling cashier.

This material included information on what could happen if you sell to someone under 18. Potential consequences included having to pay a $50 administrative penalty, being found guilty of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, and facing retraining, discipline or termination from employment.

Retailers that passed the compliance check received a certificate of congratulations on their compliance with the law.  

The Congratulate and Educate Program was created by the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Alcohol and Drug Division. Through the program, agencies conduct compliance checks at tobacco retailers by having a person under 18 attempt to purchase tobacco products.

Public Health worked in partnership with the Association of Nonsmokers/Clearway and the Sheriff’s Department during the project. The Congratulate and Educate checks are planned to be completed again in 2020.

Tobacco use among youth

For the first time in 17 years, tobacco use in Minnesota youth increased in 2017, Hamdorf stated. This has been linked to the use of e-cigarettes and vaping.

According to the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, over 12% of Aitkin County 9th graders reported using or trying tobacco. All local school districts are reporting concern about student vaping, she added. Youth purchase products and items online that disguise vaping, such as smoking devices that appear to be a USB or highlighter, and also hoodies with hidden compartments in the strings.

Public Health is working with local districts to reach students at the fifth and sixth grade levels to prevent youth tobacco/e-juice use early on.

E-juice contains chemicals that are known to be harmful. There have been 36 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-associated lung injuries in the state, 26 under review and one confirmed death.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market, pending review. The Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act amended to expand the definition of smoking to include vaping.

Aitkin County Health and Human Services briefs

• HHS Director Cynthia Bennett attended the AMC Conference presentation on how counties can prepare for cannabis to be legalized recreationally.

• The top three HHS Policy Committee legislative priorities are: Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS), out-of-home placements and mental health/chemical dependency services.

• A suicide prevention presentation will be held at Birchstreet Center in Aitkin on Monday, Nov. 25.

• The Census will return to the county in October to recruit for an array of open positions.

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