Will Olmsted County raise the age for buying cigarettes?

March 21, 2019

Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden noted the county has led efforts to establish tobacco ordinances in the past.

Now, she’s encouraging her fellow commissioners to consider following 24 other communities in the state in raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21.

“We will be joining a larger group of organizations that are urging our state to take a good public health approach,” she said Tuesday.

The county commissioners are planning to hold an April 2 public hearing on a proposal to adopt the new minimum age.

Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health Services, said 18 months of study has led county staff to suggest the change to prevent addiction among young people.

“There is concern that children exposed at younger ages are at higher risk,” he said.

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz backed the public health concerns, noting tobacco use, primarily through e-cigarettes, has been increasing among middle-school and high-school students.

“It is a huge problem,” he said. “We are battling it every day.”

Schools are taking steps to crack down on the use of e-cigarettes and other devices used for delivering nicotine through vapor, but Muñoz said it’s a struggle. Teachers have found older students going as far as selling devices to their younger peers.

He said raising the minimum age for legal purchase could stem that.

“Very few of our kids, at least during the school day, are going to have contact with a 21-year-old,” Muñoz said. “They do (have contact with) 18-year-olds.”

Briggs said that studies show increasing the age for legal purchases helps reduce access for younger students.

“If we can prevent 12- to 13-year-olds from smoking, that’s going to lead to a reduction in lifelong tobacco use,” he said.

The county’s interest in increasing the minimum age for purchase comes on the heels of reports that show youth tobacco use in Minnesota rose in 2017 for the first time in 17 years.

Briggs said that’s likely due to the emergence of vaping, with flavors and devices that cater to younger users.

The Minnesota Legislature is considering a similar move, which could raise the statewide minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21.