Proposed St. Paul ordinance would drastically cut number of tobacco licenses

The St. Paul City Council is considering a proposal aimed at slashing the number of businesses that can sell tobacco products.

The draft ordinance, which received a second reading during Wednesday’s meeting, would cut the number of available tobacco shop licenses by a third, from 150 to 100, and reduce the number of tobacco product shop licenses from 25 to 15. The measure would also eliminate tobacco vending machines.

Tobacco shop licenses are given to businesses like convenience stores or liquor stores that sell tobacco and do not necessarily require their patrons to be 21 years old. Tobacco product shop licenses are required for smoke shops that require patrons to be 21 or older, derive 90% or more of their revenue from tobacco sales and have at least one staff member dedicated to tobacco sales.

Stores with existing tobacco licenses would be grandfathered in as long as they applied for their license on or before July 31, 2021, remain in compliance with city regulations and apply for renewal within a year of a license expiring. The exception does not apply to businesses that have previously had a tobacco license revoked.

If no amendments are added on, the proposal could get a final vote before Christmas.

The measure is the latest effort to curtail smoking in St. Paul.

In 2021, the city passed a litany of restrictions on tobacco sales that established a $10 minimum on packs of cigarettes and tins of smokeless tobacco; banned the sale of menthols and other flavored tobacco products; codified a half-mile buffer between licensed tobacco retailers; and banned coupons and discounts for tobacco and vape products.

The 2021 measure also established the current 150-license cap and created two classes of tobacco licenses to differentiate between convenience stores and tobacco-focused businesses. There were approximately 190 licensed tobacco sellers at the time.

Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance to ban all smoking in public parks and within 25 feet of entrances, exits and windows of public spaces and places of employment within the city.