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Proposal Would Raise MN Tobacco Purchase Age to 21

The Minnesota Department of Health says about 580,000 people in the state are smokers, a rate of 14.4 percent. (Ida Myrvold/Flickr)
The Minnesota Department of Health says about 580,000 people in the state are smokers, a rate of 14.4 percent. (Ida Myrvold/Flickr)
March 16, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota could raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases under a proposal in the Legislature.

Five states and nearly 300 cities across the country have raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, including five Minnesota cities. The so-called "Tobacco 21" bill – House File 3532 – would add to that momentum by raising the minimum age statewide.

Laura Smith, communications manager for ClearWay Minnesota – a nonprofit aimed at reducing statewide tobacco use – says it's a simple change that would go a long way to reduce health problems and health-care costs in the state.

"If we can prevent people under 21 from starting,” says Smith, “then we can really reduce the number of young people who are becoming addicted smokers."

Opponents argue that there's little evidence raising the purchase age will curb the use of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or vaping supplies, and retailers also worry about losing sales. But the bill has bipartisan support, with 14 co-sponsors – five of whom signed on just this week.

The chief sponsor of the measure is state Rep. Dario Anselmo, R-Edina, the first city in the state to raise the tobacco-purchase age. He believes the healthcare savings would more than balance the estimated two to four percent lost annual revenue for retailers.

"Three billion dollars of hard costs to our state of Minnesota, another $4 billion in lost productivity – so, $7 billion,” he says. “If people talk about saving healthcare costs, this seems like a pretty easy target to me."

Anselmo adds it's about more than just money.

"There's an economic piece to everything we do,” he says. “We just have to make the better choice."

The Tobacco 21 bill has been assigned to the Health and Human Services Reform Committee in the House.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - MN