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MN Lawmakers Asked to Place Restrictions on Flavored Tobacco

In Minnesota, health officials say among 8th-grade students, e-cigarette use nearly doubled from 2016 to 2019, and one in four 11th graders now use e-cigarettes. (Isabella Mendes/Librestock)
In Minnesota, health officials say among 8th-grade students, e-cigarette use nearly doubled from 2016 to 2019, and one in four 11th graders now use e-cigarettes. (Isabella Mendes/Librestock)
December 13, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Ten Minnesota cities have adopted some form of restrictions for selling flavored tobacco products – and advocates of these policies hope a statewide ban will follow suit.

They are especially concerned about how these products are marketed to teens and communities of color. And this year's Minnesota Department of Health survey on youth smoking reveals a 54% increase in vaping compared to the 2016 survey.

Gene Nichols is a volunteer and the chair of the State Advisory Committee for the American Heart Association of Minnesota. Nichols, who is black, says he's seen firsthand how these products can feed an addiction.

"My brother was 15 years old when he first picked up a mentholated cigarette, and he passed away about two years ago from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease),” says Nichols. “I have personally seen the harm of it."

The Heart Association also is concerned about the popularity of vaping products and their effects on teens. Its national research indicates nearly 70% of youth e-cigarette users say they vape because of the flavors.

Supporters of restrictions say as health officials investigate a rash of vaping-related illnesses, policymakers need to take action as well.

Last year, the city of Duluth banned the sale of flavored tobacco in convenience stores.

Opponents of such moves say they can have unintended consequences – like creating an underground market. But Mayor Emily Larson notes that Duluth still allows the products to be sold in tobacco shops for adults.

"There is still access, but what we did is limited the exposure and access to young people, and that is worth taking a stand on," says Larson.

In addition to restricting flavored tobacco products, advocates are also asking lawmakers to raise the statewide tobacco buying age from 18 to 21. More than 50 cities across Minnesota have raised that threshold in their communities.

Disclosure: American Heart Association of Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN