ST. PAUL — Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation thanked Governor Tim Walz Saturday for signing Tobacco 21 into state law.

Raising the state tobacco age will align the state with federal law and keep tobacco products out of middle and high schools. Minnesota is the 25th state to adopt Tobacco 21.

“At the end of the day, our job is to keep Minnesotans safe,” said Gov. Walz. “These strong bipartisan measures will improve public health and reduce preventable health risks. Raising the age to buy tobacco to 21 will help stop addiction before it starts and save young lives.”

“Minnesota’s Tobacco 21 effort started with a few concerned residents and physicians and has grown into 75 local policies and thousands of youth, parents and supporters across the state united behind raising the tobacco age,” said Molly Moilanen, vice president at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “Thank you to Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan for listening to Minnesota’s youth and working with them to take on an industry that continues to profit from addiction and disease. It will take a bold, comprehensive effort to truly combat the health crisis of youth vaping, and Tobacco 21 is a very important first step toward this goal.”

The Tobacco 21 bill (HF331) gained strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and was championed by lawmakers from across Minnesota. Congress passed national Tobacco 21 in December 2019, and the discrepancy between the state tobacco age (18) and federal law (21) was causing confusion and tying the hands of local law enforcement. In addition to aligning with the federal tobacco age, the bill updates relevant state tobacco definitions, penalties and signage requirements to ensure strong compliance and enforcement.

Raising the tobacco age to 21 will help keep tobacco products out of schools, since there are many 18-year-olds but few 21-year-olds in high school social circles. Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started before 21. The National Academy of Medicine estimates that Tobacco 21 would lead to enormous health gains, including a 25 percent reduction in smoking initiation among 15-to-17-year-olds.

Action is needed to combat rising youth tobacco use. The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey found that more than a quarter of 11th-graders and more than one in 10 8th-graders used e-cigarettes in the past month. From 2016 to 2019, 8th-grade vaping rates nearly doubled. E-cigarette use has erased two decades of progress to reduce youth tobacco rates and the U.S. Surgeon General calls youth vaping an epidemic. Health experts are concerned about e-cigarette use because nicotine in any form harms the developing adolescent brain and can prime youth for addiction to cigarettes and other substances.

The COVID-19 pandemic added urgency for adopting stronger tobacco prevention polices. Early studies have found COVID-19 may be particularly dangerous for people with lungs weakened by chronic disease, asthma and tobacco use.

The Tobacco 21 movement has gained tremendous momentum in Minnesota. In May 2017, Edina was the first Minnesota community to pass Tobacco 21. Today, 75 Minnesota communities have local Tobacco 21 policies. Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) first introduced the Senate Tobacco 21 bill in May 2017. Sen. Nelson is a longtime supporter of tobacco prevention and championed other historic policies including securing funding for smoking cessation services and adding e-cigarettes to the statewide smoking ban. In 2018, former Representative Dario Anselmo first introduced the House version of the bill and in 2019, Representative Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) took the lead as chief author, continuing Edina’s trailblazing leadership. Before her election to the Minnesota House, Rep. Edelson helped pass Edina’s local Tobacco 21 policy. Over the last two sessions, Rep. Edelson has served as a tenacious champion of the House Tobacco 21 bill.

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of reducing youth smoking and ending tobacco’s harm for good. The coalition is united behind four major policies that reduce youth smoking and nicotine addiction, including raising the tobacco sale age to 21, increasing tobacco prices, prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products and investing in tobacco prevention programs.

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