County looks at tobacco sales training for establishments

Staff Writer

After learning the number of businesses failing tobacco compliance checks rose to six this year, Morrison County is looking at creating a training program for sellers.

“This is quite a lot more than last year,” Commissioner Duane Johnson said when he asked how many were not in compliance last year.

Last year, two businesses failed compliance checks, said Emily Senta from the Morrison County Public Health Department, who handles the paperwork for the checks.

Twenty-four businesses passed, while eight were unable to be checked as they were not open when the checks were being done. In the future, Senta recommended the checks not begin earlier than 11 a.m.

The annual checks are conducted by the Morrison County Public Health Department, the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department and students from various organizations. This year, students from the Stand Up 4 U Coalition helped.

Students who participate in the project must be 16 or 17 years old and have a valid driver’s license. They then get an hour of training before going on the checks, Senta said.

They’re not allowed to lie or alter their appearance for the test, and are searched prior to the checks for tobacco products.

One owner of a local business that failed the checks, felt minors wouldn’t be in her store if not for these checks.

Jackie Zehowski, owner of Tiny’s Tavern in Lastrup, said the checks were entrapment and that this happened because the new clerk hadn’t been trained on tobacco sales yet.

Management from Bob and Fran’s in Swanville, Lincoln Lakes Liquor in Cushing and Trail’s Edge in Buckman all said their fails were due to simple mistakes by an employee.

Sandy Primus, owner of Bob and Fran’s, said the store would be having more extensive training in the future and that they welcomed the idea of a class from the county as the store doesn’t get many minors coming in.

The Board directed staff to begin putting together a plan for training similar to the current responsible beverage server training, which teaches a businesses how to responsibly serve alcohol, in return for a discount on its annual license.

Management from the Harding Sportsman’s Bar and Grill and Bottom’s Up Saloon declined to comment on the situation.

Public Health is not doing these checks just because it’s obligated to by law and to tell vendors they’re doing things wrong, Senta said.

“We want to back them (sellers) completely and say, ‘Here’s what you can do to make safe sales and here’s what we can do to grow stronger as a community,’” Senta said.

This is a focus for the department, because the majority of tobacco users start before the age of 18, Senta said.

Penalties to businesses for violations currently range from $75 on the first violation to revocation of the license after the third.

Senta recommended changing the penalties to $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, up from $200, $250 and a seven day suspension for the third offense, this would be the same as it is currently, and any additional violations would continue to mean the revocation of the business’ tobacco license.

With a change, clerks would receive a warning the first time and be required to attend training if the county institutes it, Senta said. Currently, for every violation, violators are fined $50.

All violations accrue over a two-year period.

If training similar to the responsible beverage server training is offered and leads to lower license rates for businesses who attend, it and the fines would be included in the 2018 fee schedule, Public Health Director Brad Vold said.

Once a plan for the class has been drafted, it will be brought to the Board at a planning session and included in the 2018 fee schedule.

Board of Commissioners Briefs

In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:

  • Authorized Sheriff Shawn Larsen to serve as the financial agent for a grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) grant, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2018;
  • Appointed Eric Goodrich to the Public Health Advisory Committee;
  • Approved an agreement with the Pierz School District to have one of Morrison County’s nurses provide nursing services at the schools while the district’s new employee finishes training. The cost to the district is $55 an hour at a maximum of eight hours per month;
  • Approved a one-day liquor license for Habitat for Humanity, to hold an event at the Falls Ballroom, Oct. 20;
  • Approved conditional use permits for Donald Tschida, David and Merilyn Meyer, Galen and Karla Stumpf, all of Agram Township and Chad and Theresa Sweeney of Little Falls Township to upgrade their Tier I feedlots to Tier II feedlots;
  • Approved a permit for Bethany Lutheran Church to hold bingo, Oct. 1;
  • Approved a request for environmental grant funding of $1,790 from Employment Enterprises Inc. to purchase two durable 8 foot recycling bins;
  • Approved a permit for the Duelm Area Lions Club to hold a raffle, Dec. 2, at the Grub and Pub in Hillman; and
  • Approved an agreement with the city of Little Falls to allow the county to hold meetings at City Hall while construction takes place at the Morrison County Government Center.

The next meeting of the Morrison County Board of Commissioners is Tuesday, at 8:30 a.m. in the Morrison County Government Center’s Board Room.