Two more Minnesota cities make 21 the legal age for tobacco purchases

Tobacco products
Tobacco products sold at the Penwood Market convenience store in Minneapolis in July 2017.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News 2017

As state lawmakers consider banning tobacco sales statewide to people under 21, city councils in Albert Lea and Arden Hills passed their own ordinances Tuesday.

The two Minnesota cities joined more than two dozen other cities and counties across the state in adopting policies requiring people to be 21 years old to buy tobacco products.

"We're really pleased to see that we now have 29 communities in Minnesota — that's almost one in four Minnesota residents that's covered by tobacco 21," said Laura Smith, a spokesperson for ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit working to reduce tobacco use.

Smith said research shows almost 90 percent of adult smokers started before they were 21 years old. A 2017 survey found youth tobacco use was increasing for the first time in more than 15 years, driven by the popularity of electronic cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products.

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Public health advocates say curbing young people's use of tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, reduces the incidence of adult tobacco use.

"What we're seeing is people across the state are really stepping up and taking action especially in light of this youth nicotine epidemic so we're really hoping it will get done," Smith said.

Smith said she hopes the growing number of local efforts to restrict tobacco sales will convince state lawmakers to pass a ban.

"We really want to see that become 100 percent of Minnesotans and the Legislature can pass this statewide and get it done this year," she said.