Other Opinion: New tobacco-age law decades overdue


A slate of new state laws set to go into effect Saturday in Minnesota includes prohibiting 16- and 17-year-olds (and other minors) from marrying, even with parental permission; police reforms exposed as necessary by the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis officers; and additional tools so banks and credit unions can better prevent the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Another new law is grabbing a bulk of headlines, though — and is decades overdue, which is at least as long as efforts have been around to protect Minnesotans and Americans from the health-destroying, cancer-causing effects of nicotine. The Legislature this year in St. Paul raised the age to legally purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.

Minnesota’s new so-called “Tobacco 21” statute promises a 25% reduction in young Minnesotans taking up the habit at all, as a study commissioned by the nonprofit smoking-cessation group ClearWay and the Minnesota Department of Health determined. That translates to 30,000 Minnesota kids over the next 15 years not becoming addicted to cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products, putting their lives in jeopardy.

State and national studies have shown that if tobacco use doesn't start before age 21 it likely won't start at all.

A report in 2015 from the National Academy of Medicine determined that Tobacco 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths nationwide among people born between 2000 and 2019, including reducing lung cancer deaths by 50,000. The landmark report provided science to fuel advocacy efforts, according to the American Lung Association.


“Tobacco 21 is not the last step — but it’s an important first step toward preventing youth tobacco addiction," Molly Moilanen, vice president at ClearWay Minnesota and a co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, said in a statement, as Forum News Service reported Monday. “Minnesotans are hungry for even more meaningful action to prevent youth addiction.”

The new statewide tobacco age brings border-to-border unity after some 60 cities and counties in Minnesota, including Duluth and Hermantown, passed local Tobacco 21 laws of their own. Regulations now will no longer change from community to community, which is confusing and also unfair to local businesses which must comply while shops in neighboring towns don’t have to.

Minnesota’s new statute also lines up with federal law. In December, President Donald Trump and the FDA unexpectedly but encouragingly announced a national tobacco-buying age of 21. It was a late insert into a budget bill, however, and contained little guidance with regard to implementation, enforcement, signage, or other matters in need of detail. Everyone from retailers to law enforcement were left confused and unsure what to do. Minnesota’s new state law should make “everything crystal clear,” as ClearWay Minnesota Director of Strategic Communications Adam Kintof said in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board in February.

Just as crystal clear: tobacco and other nicotine products kill: “Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. In addition, smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $156 billion in lost productivity.”

Keeping young Minnesotans far away from the filthy habit is the goal — and the promised result — of Tobacco 21. After decades of efforts, it’s now also the law of the land, finally, across Minnesota.

What To Read Next
Get Local