BEMIDJI-To ensure retailers, consumers and the general public are properly informed, Beltrami County will wait until May to increase the legal tobacco buying age to 21.

Implementing the ordinance change, known as Tobacco 21, was the main topic of discussion at Tuesday's County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Commissioners voted Jan. 22 to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and tobacco products to 21 in the county. The ordinance also covers electronic delivery devices, such as those used for vaping.

However, because the city of Bemidji acts as its own authority when it comes to licensing tobacco sales, the new change won't impact city retailers. The ordinance change only impacts retailers licensed by the county.

But that could change. Commissioners also were informed Tuesday that the city of Bemidji may also raise the legal age to 21 to buy tobacco products.

Beltrami County Public Health Director Cynthia Borgen said implementing the change in May will allow enough time to reach out with an effective informational campaign. Officials hope to have the new rule in place by May 1.

"Our goal is helping to make sure everyone knows about this and has the tools they need to appropriately sell tobacco legally," Borgen said. "So, we will be sending letters to every tobacco retailer who are licensed by the county. We'll also be providing signage, both to alert employees and people looking to purchase tobacco from out of town.

"We're also going to do work at NTC and BSU, because individuals there will be impacted."

The new ordinance also will not impact American Indian reservations in the area, Borgen said, as they also act as their own licensing authority for tobacco sales.

According to Borgen, once implemented, law enforcement officers will continue to do their compliance checks, taking both county and state law into account.

And at the state level, the organization Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is working to advance a similar policy this legislative session.

The Tobacco 21 change does not impact tobacco possession. It is not illegal for an 18-year-old to smoke or vape; however, it will be illegal for them to purchase the products once the new rule goes into effect.

Solid waste management update

Before its regular meeting, the board held a work session where it heard an update on the county Solid Waste Department. In his report, department manager Brian Olson said because the materials recovery facility in Fosston, where the county's waste is sent, has been updated with new equipment, single sorting recycling is now available.

As a result, Olson said all recyclables, whether they be containers or fibers, can now be mixed, since the sorting equipment has been improved.

Olson also informed the commissioners about the county's solid waste department offices being relocated to a section of the Bemidji transfer station. The county purchased both the Bemidji facility and the Blackduck transfer station in 2017 from Waste Management and has since upgraded them with new equipment and renovations to increase their lifespan.