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Minnesota legislators introduce Tobacco 21 Bill

Today a bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers introduced a bill in the Minnesota House to raise the state tobacco sale age to 21. Minnesota would become the sixth state in the nation to pass a Tobacco 21 law, which aims to protect youth from tobacco addiction and prevent death and disease. The proposal was announced at the State Capitol by Representative Dario Anselmo (R-Edina). Bill coauthors include Representatives Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park), Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset), Dave Baker (R-Willmar), Mark Uglem (R-Champlin), Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton), Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul), and Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley). The legislators were joined by youth, medical professionals and supporters from the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition.

"As a parent and as a legislator, I want to do everything in my power to ensure young people are free from addiction," said lead author Rep. Anselmo. "The harms of tobacco use reach all of our families and communities — whether we are Republicans, Democrats, rural or urban. Minnesotans are leaders, and I want us to be at the forefront of this issue. I hope we can all come together and support this commonsense public policy change that makes the health of young Minnesotans a top priority."

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an effective way to keep commercial tobacco products away from young people. Nearly all addicted smokers — 95 percent — start before age 21. In Minnesota, raising the tobacco age to 21 would prevent an estimated 30,000 kids from becoming smokers over the next 15 years. Last year, a Tobacco 21 bill was introduced in the Minnesota Senate.

Several Minnesota communities have taken the lead on Tobacco 21, passing local policies to protect youth. Since 2017, five Minnesota cities have passed Tobacco 21 policies, including Plymouth, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park and North Mankato. Several other Minnesota localities are actively considering Tobacco 21 policies. To date, five states (Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon) and more than 290 localities have raised the tobacco sale age to 21.

"Driving down healthcare costs is another top priority for me," added Rep. Anselmo. "Reducing tobacco use, which costs Minnesota more than $7 billion a year in lost productivity and excess health care, will make a big impact."

There is ample evidence that the tobacco industry aggressively markets to 18- to 21-year olds to recruit replacement tobacco users, using tactics like candy flavoring, magazine advertisements and event sponsorships to attract young people to tobacco. Raising the tobacco age would reduce teens' ability to buy tobacco products themselves or access them through friends.

Young people, including advocates who have helped to pass local Tobacco 21 policies, joined the event to call for legislators to support a statewide Tobacco 21 law.

"Minnesota has a choice to make," local advocate and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer Caitlin DeVos said. "We can lead the way toward a tobacco-free future and put the health of our community and young people first, or we can let Big Tobacco companies continue to profit off selling deadly products to our teens. It should be an easy choice."

Recent data show the tobacco industry's tactics have disrupted Minnesota's progress in lowering tobacco use. In fact, for the first time in 17 years, the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found an increase in youth tobacco use. The survey demonstrated the urgent need to address rising youth tobacco use, which is led by easy access and youth-targeted flavoring, products and advertising.

"Passing Tobacco 21 would send a strong message to the nation that Minnesota is still a leader on tobacco prevention," Molly Moilanen, Co-Chair of the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition, said. "Thank you to Rep. Anselmo and all the bill authors for standing up for the next generation of Minnesotans."