Minnesota anti-smoking advocates applaud FDA pledge to crack down on flavored tobacco products

November 15, 2018

Minnesota anti-smoking advocates hailed Federal Drug Administrations (FDA) announcement Thursday of plans to crack down on the sale of flavored-tobacco products as a win for public health, but said they are not waiting for the federal government to take action.

The state has been a leader in enacting regulations that ban the sale of tobacco products to people under 21 and restrict the sale of fruit- and candy-flavored electronic cigarettes to adult-only shops, said Laura Smith of ClearWay Minnesota, a quit-smoking program funded by the states landmark 1998 legal settlement with tobacco companies.

I think we inspired them, Betsy Brock, director of research for the Association for Nonsmokers Minnesota, said of the FDAs plan. But they need to implement this in a timely manner.

Brock noted the FDA has had the power to regulate tobacco since 2009, but said little has happened nationally.

Both Minnesota nonprofits say they will continue to press cities, counties and the legislature to pass bans to keep tobacco out of the hands of youth and help adults quit.

A recent survey from the Minnesota Department of Health found 26 percent of high school students are using some form of tobacco or nicotine. That is up two percentage points from 2014 and marked the first time youth tobacco use has risen in 17 years.

The survey found that 1 in 5 high school students used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days and 60 percent of those who used tobacco used menthol or other flavored products. Nearly a third of youth e-cigarette users said they got them from retail outlets. Thats the reason local bans and FDA action are needed, Smith said.

We need products out of where youth are buying their snacks, she said.

Minneapolis, Falcon Heights, Shoreview and Lauderdale have the toughest tobacco regulations. The cities restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products to tobacco specialty shops and require buyers of any tobacco product to be 21.

St. Paul allows menthol cigarettes and fruit- and candy-flavored products to be sold only in tobacco stores, but those who buy tobacco only need to be 18. Other cities, such as Duluth, Robbinsdale and Mendota Heights have restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco.

A representative of the Minnesota Retailers Association, which has previously raised concerns about local tobacco regulations harming businesses, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As of Thursday, 16 cities and one county require those purchasing tobacco products to be 21. They include Bloomington, Edina, Plymouth, Roseville, Excelsior, Minnetonka, North Mankato, Richfield, St. Peter and Hermantown. Brooklyn Center and Otter Tail County passed a Tobacco 21 ordinance this week. Eden Prairie, Mendota Heights and Pope and Waseca counties are debating similar ordinances.

The FDA should take aggressive steps to curb youth addiction and use its authority to the fullest extent, Smith said.

Tim Harlow 612-673-7768

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