Minneapolis City Council will Vote on Raising Tobacco-Purchase Age to 21

Mitchell Rolling

Minneapolis City Council will soon decide on whether to prohibit the sales of tobacco products for people under the age of 21, raising it from 18. The law would include vaporizers and e-cigarettes as well. While supporters say that raising the age will save lives, others suggest that it will harm businesses and is being done too soon after the city banned menthol products from convenient stores. 

The move is backed by Andrew Johnson and Jeremiah Ellison, two city council members for Minneapolis and co-authors of the measure. 

According to Johnson, “It’s clearly been a good idea that’d gained a lot of traction because five other cities have passed it. And we think it’s time Minneapolis does so as well.” 

“This ordinance will save lives,” Johnson continued.

The five other cities in Minnesota to pass the measure include Edina, Plymouth, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, and North Mankato. 

Council member Ellison also noted that working-class communities are targeted disproportionately by tobacco companies and that raising the age to buy tobacco products to 21 will make it more difficult for high school kids to obtain. How does he know? Apparently, his intuition.

“A 21-year-old is probably going to be a lot less likely to give a pack of cigarettes to a 16-year-old,” he said. “I think that’s a big part of how we can prevent underage smoking.” But according to a study done in the 2000s, Ellison is underestimating the amount of enforcement possession, usage, and purchase (PUP) laws require in order to see results.

The study states, “These studies suggest that any potential deterrent effect of PUP laws may be difficult to realize in practice. Enforcement efforts need to be accompanied by concerted media advocacy about the law and the fact that it is being enforced.”

Ellison also has little fear about harming businesses like convenience stores and gas stations, arguing that they will survive even if customers are lost. Ellison likely knows little of the subject, however, being that he has been an aspiring artist and storyteller before making it on the City Council and has little experience in running a small business.

Bruce Nustad, president of Minnesota Retailers Association, says that because of the menthol prohibition, convenient stores stand to lose an average of $259,000 per year. 

“Most retailers would like to see the dust settle on that council ordinance before taking up another one that could impact sales,” Nustad said. He suggested to the council members that “As they look at the health impact, I think retailers would like to see them fully understand the economic impact as well.”

But this seems unlikely. According to Johnson, the ordinance “will reduce the number of high schoolers and teenagers who end up smoking by reducing access. So it’s very much in line with other public health policies.” And a group lobbying for the measure, ClearWay Minnesota, claims that it would reduce the number of 15- to 17-year old smokers by 25%. No research was given to support their claim. 

If the measure is passed, 18- to 20-year old individuals will still be allowed to use tobacco products in Minneapolis but will have to buy them outside of the city. Supporters of the measure wish to see it passed as a state-wide law so that crossing city-limits won’t be an issue in the future.