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Minneapolis raises legal age for tobacco buyers to 21

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Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey congratulates young supporters.
Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey congratulates young supporters of the city's new tobacco ordinance which passed unanimously Friday, May 25, 2018.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Minneapolis joined seven other Minnesota cities this morning when the city council voted unanimously to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. Supporters of the new law say a majority of adult smokers started the habit before they turned 21. And they say the new law, which includes e-cigarettes, will discourage young people from smoking. 

Dozens of supporters in the council chambers, many of them young people, erupted into applause following the roll call vote. One of those appreciative advocates was Derral Pratt, 21.

"Each year, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars marketing to young people — especially young black and brown people who look just like me. We need to break that cycle," said Pratt, who just finished his junior year in college. "I got involved in this movement because I've personally seen the impact tobacco has had on the health of my community and the health of my family. And I wanted to do something about it."

Before Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed the ordinance, he praised young people like Pratt who lobbied for the new law.

"From climate change to gun violence and now to common sense public health reforms, our youth and our students are the ones changing hearts and they're changing minds," said Frey.

The ordinance passed on a 13-0 vote. However, the law doesn't share unanimous approval among people who sell tobacco products.

The Minnesota Retailers Association opposes the ordinance. They argue state lawmakers should make such decisions, not local governments.

Khalid Haidari who owns the Pantry Food Market, testified at a May 14 public hearing it makes no sense to prohibit the sale of tobacco to certain adults.

"Where is the freedom for the guy who goes and fights for our country and he cannot smoke a cigarette?" he said. "He could vote for the president, he cannot smoke a cigarette. He can vote for you, he cannot smoke a cigarette."

The council amended the new law to provide more time for businesses to prepare.

Last year, the Minneapolis City Council approved restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products. That law becomes effective Aug. 1. The ordinance raising the legal age for buying tobacco goes into effect Oct. 1.