St. Cloud to debate raising legal tobacco age to 21

Some of the many menthol tobacco products sold at the Penwood Market.
Some of the many menthol tobacco products sold at the Penwood Market convenience store in Minneapolis on July 27, 2017.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News File

St. Cloud could become the third Minnesota city to make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under age 21.

The St. Cloud City Council set a public hearing for Nov. 6 on the proposed ordinance, following a study session in October.

Edina and St. Louis Park have already raised the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21. So have five states: California, Oregon, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine. Current Minnesota law prohibits the sale of tobacco to people younger than 18.

The move is supported by an organization called Crave the Change, part of CentraCare Health Foundation. In August, the group recommended that St. Cloud and its five area cities — Sartell, Waite Park, St. Joseph, St. Augusta and Sauk Rapids — adopt ordinances prohibiting the sale of tobacco and tobacco-related products to anyone under age 21.

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Dr. Julie Anderson, a family physician with the St. Cloud Medical Group, said raising the minimum age has been effective at reducing tobacco use among teens in other cities.

"They've seen a significant drop in the teen use of tobacco products up to 50 percent, on average 25 to 30 percent, in these communities," Anderson said. "That struck me as something that perhaps could happen in Minnesota."

Anderson said she's concerned that although cigarette use among teens has declined, there's been an increase in the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

Young adults ages 18 to 20 provide about 90 percent of tobacco obtained by younger teens, Anderson said, so the ordinance change would be a way to restrict access. She said it's also a way to curb the public health costs associated with tobacco use.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said although he opposes smoking, he does not support the ordinance change. He said 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, so they should be able to decide whether to buy a legal product.

Kleis also said the ordinance would ban the sale of tobacco to people between the ages of 18 and 21, but wouldn't prevent them from using tobacco or buying it somewhere else.