Minneapolis City Council votes to raise tobacco-buying age to 21

Lindsay Fox / CC BY 2.0

An ordinance to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 in Minneapolis was put to vote in front of the entire city council this morning and passed unanimously.

The bill’s main author, Councilmember Andrew Johnson, called the resolution a “common sense policy.”

Mayor Jacob Frey signed the ordinance and applauded the work done to raise awareness about the issue, stating, “From gun violence to climate change, Minneapolis’ students and youth have shown they are not just tomorrow’s leaders — they are today’s.

“Youth of color have been an especially powerful voice in building the momentum that made today possible. This is a victory for common sense public health policy, but it’s a victory that belongs to them.”

The proposal was first introduced on March 23 and has become known as the T21 ordinance; it will go into effect Oct. 1, two months after the citywide menthol ban is enforced.

Gretchen Musicant, commissioner of health and director of the health department stated in a presentation after her recent reappointment that 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. She noted that for the first time in 17 years, tobacco use has risen.

Musicant contributed the rise largely to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 88 percent of high school students have seen an advertisement for e-cigarettes.

Musicant also noted that the financial burden Hennepin County takes on due to tobacco use is nearly $600 million each year.

Aside from vaping and e-cigarettes, less than 10 percent of high schoolers reported smoking traditional cigarettes, down 70 percent since 2000.

Derral Pratt
Derral Pratt Linkedin/Derral Pratt

Derral Pratt, a program specialist at North Point Health and Wellness Center, said he is happy that the minimum age got raised, but said there will always be work to do.

“If the opposite side is always coming up with new ways of implementing new strategies on how to get the younger market hooked on their products right away, I feel like there is going to be a constant fight for what we believe in,” Pratt said.

“It’s interesting to me that tobacco kills more people than any other substance and we still allow it to be a legal substance,” Councilmember Andrea Jenkins said. She added that the passing of the proposal would, “be a small step in saying that we are interested in the health of our community and young people.”

Jenkins also said low-income communities and communities of color are “significantly targeted and impacted” by the tobacco industry and this resolution is a “symbol of resistance to that.”

“My personal belief is that it is easier to get away with,” Latrisha Vetaw said about the tobacco industry targeting communities of color. Vetaw is the health advocacy and policy manager at North Point Health and Wellness Center and one of six newly elected Minneapolis Park Board commissioners.

“Black people smoke more, communities of color smoke more than other [communities],” Vetaw said, adding that these communities are on the receiving end of predatory marketing by the tobacco industry.

After interning at Breathe Free North, Pratt, 21, said his eyes opened up to just how much impact tobacco had on his neighborhood. “Going back to review how I grew up, I did kind of notice how there were tobacco signs everywhere, and how many of my friends I grew up with had easy access to go in and by cigarettes from a convenience store.”

At their last meeting, the public health committee heard comments from more than 30 people. While many people spoke in favor of the ordinance, some were upset that vaping products were included in the proposal.

The proposal presents another challenge for convenience shop owners who MPR reported are already having trouble with the rising minimum wage and new sick time laws.

Vape shop owners and managers have said vaping provides a safe alternative for people to stop using traditional cigarettes. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not officially recognize e-cigarettes or vaping as an effective alternative to smoking.

vaping tobacco
Vaping360.com / CC BY 2.0

Councilmember Cam Gordon said he commends people who truly want to use vaping as a tool to get people off of cigarettes, but pointed out there are proven methods to quit, like the patch or gum. Gordon also said the amount of money the tobacco industry has invested in e-cigarettes makes him uneasy.

Others who were opposed to the bill said that if we trust 18-year-olds to buy guns and join the military, we should trust them with the decision to buy and use tobacco.

By passing the amendment, Minneapolis shows solidarity with more than 250 localities across the country, as well as Minnesota communities like Edina, Bloomington, Plymouth, St. Louis Park and North Mankato who have recently passed similar bills.

“This is one of the instances where we are taking the lead from our suburban neighbors,” said Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, who co-authored the bill with Johnson.