Tobacco 21

WASECA — The Waseca City Council on Wednesday unanimously cleared the first hurdle for a measure that would raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21. A public comment section is scheduled for December 18th.

The council chambers were filled with 50 supporters of the ordinance, which would prevent businesses within the city limits from selling tobacco products, e-cigarettes and any other devices containing nicotine to people under 21. The measure would not punish teenagers 18 and over for possession of tobacco. 

Council member Daren Arndt introduced the proposal. He said he started smoking as a teenager before quitting tobacco as an adult. He reached out to the American Lung Association, who helped draft the language for the proposed ordinance.

"The American Lung Association is working across Minnesota on this issue and convinced council member Darren Arndt that this be placed in the agenda," said Lee Mattson, the Waseca city manager.

Elizabeth Heimer of the American Lung Association spoke in favor of the ordinance, citing the increased use of e-cigarettes among teenagers in Minnesota. 

"Youth tobacco use in Minnesota has increased for the first time in 17 years," she said.

Needham, Massachusetts, was the first municipality to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21 in 2005. Heimer said studies there have shown such ordinances are effective at combating teen tobacco use.

"Tobacco 21 helped decrease their smoking rates by 50 percent and the other cities around them did not see that decrease," Heimer said. "We can reverse this trend. It puts a barrier in place for youth access."

Abby Dettmer, a doctor of osteopathy for Mayo Clinic Health System in Waseca, also spoke to the city council in favor of the measure.

"There is a problem in Waseca," Dettmer said. "We have a solution and it's evidence based. The time to take action is now."

A measure to increase the age limit for tobacco purchases to 21 was defeated in Mankato earlier this year, but Heimer said they will be introducing a proposal again following the elections. 

Overall, 15 cities across Minnesota — including St. Peter and North Mankato — have adopted Tobacco 21 laws. Over 360 cities in 22 states have approved similar legislation. Six states, including California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey and Hawaii, have passed statewide initiatives raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21.

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