- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

Star Tribune, Jan. 10

Flavored-tobacco ban should be widened beyond Minneapolis, St. Paul

Minneapolis and St. Paul often disagree. But when it comes to flavored tobacco, the two cities have adopted a united front that should put temptingly flavored tobacco out of easy reach for teens.

On Jan. 1, Minneapolis became the first city in the state to ban the sale of flavored tobacco in convenience stores. St. Paul has followed suit, with its ban due to take effect in April. Those efforts are needed and should be widened beyond the Twin Cities.

Minnesota has had remarkable success in curbing cigarette smoking by teens. A 2014 state survey showed smoking among teens had plummeted to 10.3 percent. However, the survey also showed that tobacco use patterns among young people were shifting. Overall tobacco use stood at 19 percent as teens shifted to cigar products and smokeless tobacco.

The state survey did not ask specifically about flavored products, but the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey did, and it revealed some disturbing statistics about the rise in popularity of flavored tobacco products among young people.

It found that 7 out of 10 students who use tobacco are drawn to heavily flavored products because they mask the harsh taste. In releasing the survey, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “flavored tobacco products are enticing a new generation of America’s youth into nicotine addiction, condemning many of them to tobacco-related disease and early death.”

This rising trend is one to which many adults may be completely oblivious. Since 2009, the tobacco industry has been banned from selling fruity or candy-flavored cigarettes in the U.S. The law did not restrict flavorings of other tobacco products, though, and the availability of cheap, sweet small cigars and other tobacco products has exploded in the U.S., often carrying colors associated with candy and flavors such as watermelon, cola, pineapple and even “pinkberry.”

Before the ban went into effect, Minneapolis had more than 300 outlets authorized to sell such products. That figure is now down to fewer than two dozen.

Both cities also have moved to make little cigars and cigarillos - which can sell for less than a buck a package - more costly. St. Paul’s ordinance will require retailers to charge at least $2.60 per cigar for packages containing three or more cigars, or $10.40 for a package of four.

Other cities that want to prevent their young people from picking up a lifelong addiction should strongly consider similar measures.

An even better move would be to consider raising to 21 the legal age for tobacco purchase. New York City and Cleveland have already done so, and Boston will follow suit next month. That age limit will include e-cigarettes, an increasingly popular product among teens. This month, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of tobacco products to those under 21.

Studies show that the more available tobacco is, the more likely kids are to try it. Conversely, few who wait until 21 ever pick up the habit. Limiting the sale of flavored tobacco is a good start. Raising the age for purchasing tobacco products would be even better.


St. Cloud Times, Jan. 9

State must plan Real ID compliance

The Minnesota Legislature’s dilemma for complying with the federal Real ID Act boils down to a simple-but-patently-unfair choice: Comply for the convenience of constituents or stick to principles and risk the ire of not just those constituents, but the federal government.

Perhaps the only good news? The feds Friday announced it will be at least two years, perhaps as many as four, before Real ID measures are fully enforced.

Still, thanks to a federal government willing to bully to get what it wants, Minnesota realistically has little choice but to comply with Real ID.

Make no mistake. In the 10 years since it passed, Real ID casts an increasingly dark cloud over fundamental American values such as freedom, privacy and limited government. Primary opposition remains as relevant today as it was when Congress and President George W. Bush put it together after 9/11: Real ID creates a default national ID system - a concept directly contrary to so many principles upon which this nation is founded.

However, failure to comply means Minnesotans will need something more than their standard-issue driver’s license to board domestic flights starting in 2018. In a nation where fear now overwhelms freedom and consumers won’t wait for anything, that alone is huge bargaining chip.

Sadly, in the wake of countless reports of federal authorities abusing their domestic surveillance powers or having their databases hacked, there probably also is merit in the belief that much of that personal data already can be accessed by government.

In 2009, the Legislature passed a law that prohibited implementation of Real ID, which essentially forces states to gather intense personal data from residents who seek driver’s licenses and basically share that information with other jurisdictions nationwide.

As The New York Times reported, eventually the private American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which works with state motor vehicle departments, will have all Real ID-compliant license information. Examples of data required include a person’s Social Security number and immigration status, plus the license is to have a readable chip or a magnetic strip containing all collected personal information.

Homeland Security reports that most states and other jurisdictions “have made significant progress in enhancing the security of their licenses over the last number of years. As a result, approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of all U.S. drivers hold licenses from jurisdictions: (1) determined to meet the act’s standards; or (2) that have received extensions.”

Minnesota, though, learned last month it won’t get an extension, probably because the law passed in 2009 bans the state from making progress toward compliance.

Legislators are discussing what to do prior to the March 8 opening of the 2016 session. Friday’s announcement gives them more time after news last month that implementation could come any time in 2016.

Their key objective should be getting clear directives from the federal government about the minimum changes needed to current driver’s licenses to make them compliant with Real ID standards.

Welcome to the sad realities of a nation in which fear overwhelms the value we place on freedom.


The Free Press of Mankato, Jan. 8

Obama gun checks are warranted and reasonable

While critics say the recent executive actions on guns taken by President Obama threaten Second Amendment rights, the actions will actually strengthen lawful gun use and by extension Second Amendment rights.

Obama’s actions put teeth into current gun law and bolster the resources for more rigorous enforcement. They also create a fairer playing field for gun commerce.

More and more people see unquestioning allegiance to lax gun-law enforcement as a significant threat to public safety. By strengthening enforcement, Obama will reinforce the rule of law and the idea that Americans can have firearms if they obey the laws on possessing firearms that have been in place for decades.

The executive action adds 230 FBI analysts to the ranks of those who do gun background checks, an increase of 50 percent. The current background check law is a convoluted reverse permission system, allowing a gun sale to go through if a background check cannot be completed in 3 days. The gun is then issued, no questions asked.

The new rules for stepped up 24-hour processing of background checks may have made a difference in the killing of the members of a congregation of a South Carolina church. The killer bought a gun because his background could not be determined after three days.

Other critics say Obama’s actions won’t stop mass shootings like those in Newtown, Connecticut, because the guns were purchased legally. So they’re right in one respect, but no one is saying the new rule will prevent those kind of killings. It’s a false premise. There are still hundreds of thousands of single and multiple victim killings that the new rules have a chance of preventing. To think otherwise is just beyond a reasonable assessment of the facts.

The executive action gives the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms another 200 investigators to do license checks on the increased number of people who will now fall under the definition of “gun dealer.”

The ATF even had trouble sanctioning rogue licensed dealers. The biggest gun seller in Washington state finally lost its license for a horrific record of failing to do background checks, losing track of some 2,400 guns in its possession and being on the list for guns most used in crimes. But it took the ATF 10 years to shut it down, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

The new rules will require more gun sellers obtain a license and conduct background checks.

The increase in enforcement does not require more congressional funding, and Obama said he would much prefer Congress act on these issues. But Congress has been moving slower than ever as it become more a political battleground than a place to solve the country’s problems.

The executive actions are a step in the right direction. A large majority of Americans, including gun owners, support background checks for gun buyers. These reasonable and warranted measures to strengthen our enforcement will improve public safety and protect the integrity of the Second Amendment.

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