Tobacco 2 (copy)

Mankato tobacco retailers have two weeks to update their warning signs about the legal purchase age nicotine products — which rises to 21 on June 24.File photo

MANKATO — Tobacco and nicotine users between the ages of 18 and 20 have two more weeks to make their purchases in Mankato before the city's recently passed Tobacco 21 ordinance takes effect.

"The start date is June 24," City Manager Pat Hentges said. "We've got, probably, some work we still need to do, but that is the effective date. It is what it is."

The new ordinance, which was officially published May 24 in The Free Press, set the effective date as 30 days after publication. Along with making it illegal to sell cigarettes, other forms of tobacco and other smoking devices to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, the ordinance requires retailers to post prominent signs warning out-of-towners that Mankato is a Tobacco 21 town.

Mankato was one of the early cities in Minnesota to consider raising the buying age for tobacco, but passage was delayed multiple times and the ordinance will take effect two years after it was first discussed. More than 30 local governments in the state have now implemented Tobacco 21.

Initially, there was added complexity caused by trying to coordinate simultaneous passage of ordinances with the North Mankato City Council to avoid putting tobacco sellers in one city at a disadvantage. When a vote was held in Mankato early last year, it failed 3-4.

North Mankato moved ahead without its larger neighbor, passing an ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1. Waseca and St. Peter also have ordinances in place with St. Peter leading the way with a higher purchase age in force since August.

In Mankato, by far the largest retail center in the region, progress on the ordinance stalled after the failed vote. But when two opponents didn't seek re-election to the council in November and were replaced by pro-Tobacco 21 members, Council member Mark Frost resurrected the ordinance earlier his year.

Following meetings with tobacco-license holders and a careful rewriting of the entire ordinance to include definitions that covered evolving electronic-cigarette products, Tobacco 21 passed unanimously on May 13.

Hentges would not comment on plans for compliance checks, which traditionally have been conducted during the summer months by school liaison officers to ensure stores weren't selling to minors under the age of 18.

"It's seller beware," Hentges said.

He also wouldn't say whether compliance checks will now be conducted using undercover buyers aged 18, 19 or 20 years old rather than 15, 16 or 17 — the ages required under current state law mandating compliance checks.

Beginning June 24, the nearest places where young adult tobacco users in Mankato will be able to legally make their purchases will be convenience stores in LeHillier and Eagle Lake.