Minneapolis City Council weighs raising tobacco-buying age to 21

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

The Minneapolis City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposal to raise the city's tobacco-buying age to 21.

If the proposal is approved, Minneapolis would join several other Minnesota communities that have made similar moves in recent months, including Edina, Bloomington, Plymouth, St. Louis Park and North Mankato.

Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson is a co-author of the proposal being considered. He said he wants to be part of the regional push to address the public health issue.

What's being considered in Minneapolis "doesn't really differ with our other cities, and I think that's a good thing," he said. "We want there to be consistency between cities and this regional approach of working with one another."

There is also a push at the state level to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21.

Cigarettes for sale
Cigarettes for sale.
Gene J. Puskar | AP 2015

The Minneapolis plan has been met with opposition from the retail sector. Convenience store owners say they're already getting hit by new sick time laws and the new minimum wage increase put in place by the city of Minneapolis starting in January.

"Tobacco is a declining category for us, and to be clear, I'm not a tobacco apologist or sympathetic toward that issue whatsoever," Lonnie McQuirter, a partner at the 36 Lyn Refuel station, a convenience store and gas station in south Minneapolis, told MPR News earlier this year.

But he said stores like his are already doing a good job of enforcing the current 18-year-old age limit for buying tobacco.

The Minneapolis proposal also has been criticized by those who sell electronic cigarette devices. They say it removes an option for those in their late teens looking for an alternative to traditional tobacco products.

Johnson said that until research proves otherwise, he thinks vaping should be included in the ordinance.

"If you look at other cities, they've covered vaping as well, and this is consistent with our indoor smoking bans and such," he said.

Minneapolis is also preparing to place restrictions on sales of menthol cigarettes. Those changes were approved last year and go into effect in August.

The Minnesota Department of Health said earlier this year that tobacco use — reported in a long-running survey — rose for the first time in 17 years last year, led by a sharp spike in e-cigarette use since 2014.

The meeting of the Minneapolis City Council's Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights and Engagement Committee starts at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Room 317 at City Hall.

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