Lauderdale raises tobacco purchase age to 21


by Anne Holzman

Spurred by one its members, the Lauderdale City Council unanimously has adopted an ordinance that prohibits the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21-years-old, including the sale and purchase of e-cigarette products and menthol-flavored tobacco.  

Council member Roxanne Grove pushed for the ordinance change, explaining her action was prompted by a lifetime of smoking, quitting, and then worrying about tobacco harming her children and grandchildren. The measure will take effect Feb. 1, 2019. 

“I had tried quitting at least 15 times before I got it right,” Grove said. “Back when I was growing up, smoking was glamorous. It was affordable. Everybody I knew smoked.”

She finally succeeded in quitting, and her daughter quit, too. Her daughter had a baby who was born premature and has chronic lung problems. Seeing the granddaughter, now 16, taking up cigarettes prompted Grove to act. 

“Where’s she getting her cigarettes?” Grove asked.

On Oct. 23, Lauderdale joined a wave of Twin Cities municipalities raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, guided by a campaign from the Minnesota Department of Health called T-21. As of early October, 13 Minnesota cities had raised the legal tobacco purchase age, mostly in the Twin Cities metro area but also in St. Peter and Mankato, according to the nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota.

A Minnesota Department of Health survey shows that youth tobacco smoking has recently increased, largely due to the popularity of e-cigarettes, or vaping.

The rationale for lowering the legal purchase age is that most people who become addicted to nicotine start ingesting it in their early teens, when they have far more contact with 18-year-olds (who can still buy tobacco legally in Minnesota) than they have with 21-year-olds.

 Meanwhile, Grove acknowledged that people ages 18 to 20 can still drive to neighboring communities to buy tobacco products, so she is also watching efforts to raise the smoking age statewide.

Jeanne Weigum, president of the Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota (ANSR), said bills to raise the smoking age statewide have been introduced in the last two legislative sessions, and legislators from both major parties have been engaged in the effort. (The St. Paul-based nonprofit has its offices at Raymond and University avenues.) 

“It isn’t a purely partisan issue,” Weigum said, citing one voters survey that found more support among Republican voters than among Democrats to raise the tobacco purchase age, despite the fact that more Democratic than Republican legislators were on board. “It’s in issue that relates to the public health and the health of children.” 

Grove, who has worked as a nurse in other clinic roles, has seen patients who have respiratory issues from vaping as well as from smoking cigarettes, she said. The state health department notes that nicotine is harmful to brain development regardless of how it is ingested.

The ordinance will not prevent under-age users from buying vaping products online, Grove conceded. “If you can get these online, who’s governing that?”

Clinic doctors have asked “the successful quitter” to talk to patients who are eager to quit smoking and vaping. Since she joined the Lauderdale City Council, those doctors have repeatedly urged her, to add her city to the list of T-21 adopters.

“If this helps just one child not pick up a cigarette, I’m all for it,” Grove said.

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