Coalitions in Action: Minnesota Change Agents Tackle Tobacco
Whether it’s a Sticker Shock campaign at the local liquor store, participating in National Prevention Week, giving Responsible Beverage Server Trainings or establishing social host ordinances, Annie Tepfer’s coalition does things, “rapadly.” Tepfer, the Drug-Free Communities Coalition Coordinator for the RAPAD Coalition (Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs), said she is proud of her coalition’s tobacco ordinance work.
The coalition covers a rural area about 100 miles outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Their data told them that smoking was a problem, especially among youth.
Coalition leaders decided to work on updating the existing tobacco ordinance, which hadn’t been updated since 1998. Helping to pass the County Tobacco Ordinance Amendment, they were able to increase the minimum price of cigars in small packages, prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco products, require retailer education and a number of other policy improvements.
One of the best improvements, Tepfer said, was to increase the penalty for failing a compliance check from $200 to $400. Of course, the coalition ensured it addressed e-cigarette use, as well.
Before the amendment was passed, the coalition conducted compliance checks and found that 40 percent of the stores in their jurisdiction were non-compliant. A Point-of-Sale audit revealed flavored cigars selling at just .89 cents – less than the cost of a candy bar.
“It’s cutting down on the amount of tobacco that is accessible to our youth. That change has already made a difference,” she said.
When the coalition implemented environmental strategies to address alcohol compliance, eventually 100% of businesses passed their compliance checks. She hopes for the same result with her coalition’s next tobacco compliance assessment. The coalition has been receiving requests for training, which they have happily granted.
“We know that community change doesn’t happen overnight so we have to do a lot of education about the tobacco ordinance first, but we’ll get there,” she said.
To achieve change, though, takes time. Developing ordinance language required assessment at the local level, surveying their youth, and coordinating with the American Lung Association, veterans, cancer survivors, and public health attorneys.
“It was really good to go slowly so we could have many discussions with community members,” Tepfer said.
The coalition staffed a booth last week at their county fair with the theme of tobacco companies targeting youth. She said that attendees were shocked at the coalition’s display of side-by-side comparisons of flavored tobacco products in candy like packaging.
“(Big Tobacco) is targeting youth to replace the adults who are dying from diseases related to tobacco use or those that quit smoking,” she said.
The RAPAD Coalition was selected for a state award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services-Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division for taking evidence-based steps for creating lasting change. Their recent tobacco advocacy work led the charge.
The award, called “Prepared & Aware,” also honored RAPAD for its work on the following initiatives since its 2006 formation:
- Conducting free Responsible Beverage Server Trainings to all liquor establishments in the county
- Supporting the Sheriff’s office in conducting alcohol compliance checks
- Passing a Social Host Ordinance at county level and nine cities
“Since the founding of our coalition, this county has seen many decreases in substance use among our youth, which has been documented in the Minnesota Student Survey. This is much cause for celebration,” Tepfer said.