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Cass County Board: Cass County weighs raising minimum age to buy tobacco products

BACKUS—When Jeri Seegmiller of county health services asked the county board to make Cass County's minimum tobacco or e-cigarette purchasing age 21, the board was reluctant to act as a single county but expressed some support for a statewide change in the law.

Seegmiller reported a student survey shows Cass teens have increased their use of both tobacco and e-cigarettes in the last few years and at a higher rate than statewide averages.

Cigarette use in Cass County rose between 2013 and 2016 from 16 to 24 percent among 11th-grade girls and from 5 percent to 14 percent among 11th-grade boys. This compares with a statewide average of 8 percent among girls and 9 percent among boys.

E-cigarette use here rose between 2013 and 2016 from 6 to 15.4 percent among ninth-graders and from 4 percent to 21.1 percent among 11th-graders. Statewide averages are 9.3 percent for ninth-graders and 17.1 percent for 11th-graders.

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E-cigarette use here rose between 2013 and 2016 from 6 to 15.4 percent among ninth-graders and from 4 percent to 21.1 percent among 11th-graders.

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Seegmiller said these surveys are conducted every three years, so a new one will be done in 2019.

Board Chair Bob Kangas supported the idea of raising the age limit and suggested tobacco taxes should keep going up until it forces people to quit using nicotine products.

Administrator Joshua Stevenson noted it would be easy for southern county residents to drive a few miles to Brainerd to buy nicotine products or for northern county residents to drive to Bemidji.

Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk suggested it would make more sense for the county board to support a statewide measure to increase the tobacco and e-cigarette minimum age to purchase from 18 to 21 years old. He also questioned whether a county has legal authority to set the age for using a legal product.

"I'm not sure I want to control people's lives," Commissioner Jeff Peterson commented.

Stevenson said Cass could recommend the Association of Minnesota Counties support a statewide increase in tobacco and e-cigarette age to purchase. The board did not vote on the issue Tuesday, Nov. 20.

In other Health, Human and Veterans Services matters, the board approved joining the Region V+ Mental Health Initiative Interlocal Cooperative with Aitkin, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties.

Michelle Piprude, HHVS director, said contracting together to deliver mental health services will help each county find gaps in services and better fill client needs. She said there can be up to 100 people needing mental health or chemical dependency services at any given time in Cass County. Often the two problems are interrelated, she said.

The goal will be to deliver cost-effective services in a timely manner and to provide more consistency in services, she said.

Piprude informed the board about the White Oaks Estates proposal to offer apartments and townhomes with support services for people with low incomes and people with mental health issues.

The county board approved the following:

A contract with Sourcewell to oversee purchase of services contracts for services counties offer. Cass County's cost for 2019 will be $11,154.78, its share of the service being shared with Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties, which will total $63,741.60 at an hourly rate of $40.86.

A service agreement with Trimin Systems to provide computer programming, technical assistance and related services to support HHVS agency collection and social welfare computer systems for $2,400.

A memorandum of agreement with Pequot Lakes Physical Therapy Services to provide physical therapy to Cass clients at $55 per hour for time spent with clients.

A Minnesota Department of Health grant for $135,304 for 2019.

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