Advocates continue support for increased tobacco purchase age

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Four Minnesota cities — Plymouth, Bloomington, St. Louis Park and Edina — set their tobacco sale age at 21 this year in an attempt to decrease the number of addicted people in their communities.

Plymouth is the most recent to join the pack, with a 4-3 City Council vote in late November, but it might not be the last. Carver County is mulling a similar measure and the state Legislature could take up the issue — a bill increasing the tobacco sale age was introduced in the Senate last session but did not advance.

Increasing the minimum buying age to 21 would help keep tobacco products out of high schools and stymie the tobacco industry’s attempts to recruit young smokers, advocates say.

“The most powerful tool that we have to prevent this very difficult, expensive, life-threatening addiction is to raise the age to 21,” said Joel Spoonheim, director of health promotion at Health Partners.

Almost 95 percent of addicted smokers begin lighting up before their 21st birthday, he said, citing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Spoonheim spoke at the Plymouth City Council’s hearing on the issue.

“I don’t think most people realize that,” he said. “It helps people understand why this matters … I think that’s what sealed the deal for me and for the City Council.”

Spoonheim is involved in the issue professionally — smoking can cost companies a lot when it comes to both productivity and health care costs — but he’s also personally invested as a father and community member, he said.

As a Plymouth resident, he supported the ordinance change, which goes into effect this July, and was excited to see it pass, Spoonheim said.

If Minnesota’s smoking age were raised statewide, 30,000 kids could escape addiction over 15 years, estimates Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation, an anti-smoking coalition.

“You want to protect kids across the state, regardless of their zip code,” said coalition co-chair Molly Moilanen, who also serves as ClearWay Minnesota’s director of public affairs.

This session, she hopes to build on the bill introduction made by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, with legislation introduced in the House and Senate as well as committee hearings. However, local action remains important for any statewide campaigns to receive serious consideration, she said.

Effective city and county policies can lead to statewide policies, and as of now, cities have legal jurisdiction when it comes to deciding the sale age for tobacco products, Spoonheim said.

That also means cities could opt out of county ordinances raising the sale age, passing their own ordinances decreasing the age back to 18, Carver County Assistant Attorney Dan Ryan said.

As of Plymouth’s November decision, the country has nearly 275 towns in 18 different states with a tobacco sale age of 21, according to advocacy group ClearWay Minnesota.

Edina voted to raise its minimum age in May, St. Louis Park voted in July, and Bloomington in early November.

Detroit Lakes, in northwest Minnesota, was in the news in September when a proposed ordinance to raise the age to 21 was shot down, with members of the public voicing concerns that vapor-inhaling products were included in the ban.

In November, St. Cloud approved raising the age to buy tobacco, but the mayor vetoed it. Mankato and North Mankato talked about an ordinance last summer and plan to take up the issue next year.

Other communities have expressed interest in pursuing ordinances. They range from metro-area communities to places in Greater Minnesota, Moilanen said.

She declined to list specific cities, saying that she doesn’t want opposition to launch counter-campaigns before those considerations become public. 

“There is interest and active work being done,” Moilanen said. “We’re seeing interest from all parts of the state.” 

Source: Lakeshore Weekly News

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