Pressure to pass Tobacco 21 grows as legislative session winds down

With the legislative session winding down, anti-smoking advocates are turning up the heat on passing a statewide law to raise the tobacco buying age to 21.

Thirty-two communities and counties across the state have already passed Tobacco 21 ordinances and advocates want to take it statewide. So far, 12 states have already raised the age to 21 to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes. At the Minnesota state Capitol, the pressure is on.

“It’s becoming a movement,” said Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina. “And right now, I don’t want Minnesota to be left behind.”  

Lawmakers heard Tobacco 21 bills in both chambers this session. All were heavily pushed by teenagers.

“I want to point you to the real champions behind Tobacco 21, and they are right here,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.  

Students have pushed the bill after the latest youth smoking survey from the Minnesota Department of Health showed a sudden rise in the teen smoking rate. More than 26 percent of students said they had used tobacco in the previous 30 days. That was up seven percent from 2014. That increase was largely driven by a surge in e-cigarettes such as Juul products.

“Amongst my peers, Juul’s are very, very common and they think it is very safe to use them,” said Anna Grace Hottinger, a Mounds View High School sophomore. “It is super easy for students to conceal these devices.”  

While the idea has broad support, legislative language to raise the tobacco age to 21 currently only exists in the House version of the Health and Human Services bill currently in conference committee. It is not in the Senate’s version of the bill, which is why advocates say now is the time act.

“If this bill is important to you, this is go time, this time to flood the phone lines and emails to your representatives and especially those on the conference committee for Health and Human Services,” said Sen. Nelson.  

If the Tobacco 21 provision is passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, it would take effect August 1.