Cities take the lead in raising Minnesota’s smoking age to 21

A state bill didn't work out, so Minnesota cities are raising their tobacco sales age piece by piece.

A state bill didn't work out, so Minnesota cities are raising their tobacco sales age piece by piece. Julie

In raising its tobacco sales age from 18 to 21, Edina last month took a leap of faith that other forward-thinking municipalities would follow suit.

The policy doesn’t work so well otherwise. A citywide ban makes it harder for younger adults to get their smokes just down the street from the high school, but with a bit of effort they could hop over to the next town to stock up.

Still, the Edina city council speculated that once the new ordinance gets underway in July, most wouldn’t make the extra effort.

A number of other cities have the same idea, and with power in numbers, they’re banking on a piecemeal approach to eventually elevating the smoking age statewide.

“One of the goals of raising the age to 21 is to encourage other communities to do the same, and convince the state, ultimately,” says Councilmember Susan Sanger of St. Louis Park, which is second in line to jump on board. A vote is scheduled for next month.

Though an ordinance has not yet been proposed in Bloomington, talks are underway there as well, Sanger says. A southwestern metro coalition would make it even more difficult for 18-year-olds to maintain a smoking habit.

Republican Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester made a go this year of raising the smoking age throughout Minnesota, but her bill came late in the legislative session and did not survive.

Sanger isn’t holding out hope that the state will lead on this issue. She believes municipalities’ momentum is what’s needed to fuel support for Nelson at the Capitol.

North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen agrees.

Ideally, the state would enact a blanket law, he says, but legislators would have to fight through the extra hurdle of professional tobacco lobbyists. Spread out locally, they’re not so strong.

This summer North Mankato and Mankato have teamed up to revisit their tobacco sales age. The neighboring cities have a history of working together on public health issues, beating the state to adopt the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act in the early 2000s, and later limiting the use of electronic cigarettes everywhere real ones aren’t allowed.

With five universities in the area bringing a large population of young people, it came as a no-brainer for Dehen, chiropractor by trade, to support a restriction for anyone under 21.

“It’s one thing to see a 60 year old who’s made that choice, but to see a young person take it on in the face of all the literature, all the information that’s been published and talked about, advertised, that’s always the disappointing part to a healthcare provider,” he says.

Public hearings will begin next month, and a law could be enacted as early as the fall.