Bill to raise statewide age to buy tobacco products to 21 gains momentum

Legislation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 across Minnesota is gaining momentum at the state Capitol.

“Today we are facing a crisis in teen nicotine addiction,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.

During a Senate committee hearing, proponents of Tobacco 21 testified before lawmakers. 

“E-cigs, Juuls, vape pens and vaporizers are widely used at my school,” said Vakare Bartkaitis, a Roseville High School student.

“This is not a thumb drive or an iPhone charger, this is a Juul, an extremely efficient nicotine system,” said Pat McKone of the American Lung Association.

On the decline for more than two decades, smoking rates among teens in Minnesota is now on the rise due to an increase in the use of e-cigarettes. Federal health officials are calling it an epidemic. Bartkaitis says she sees it first hand at school. 

“They make these products seem harmless, by using bright and colorful packaging and fun flavors like piña colada, which disguises the ugly truth and danger of using these tobacco products,” said Bartkaitis.

So far, 23 cities and counties in Minnesota have adopted ordinances increasing the tobacco age to 21. Seven states across the country have similar laws. Minnesota could be next.

“We're excited to take this step, I mean we're not counting our chickens, we really have a number of hurdles to overcome this session, but we're on the right track and the momentum is really growing,” said Molly Moilanen of Tobacco 21.

The Tobacco 21 proposal will now move to two more committees in the House and Senate. A rally in support of the legislation is planned for Wednesday at the Capitol.