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Olmsted County Public Health recommends raising the tobacco age to 21

Olmsted County Public Health recommends raising the tobacco age to 21

Olmsted County is considering a proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

The recommendation comes as the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, continues to spike among young people. Last December, the U.S. Surgeon General put out an advisory calling the issue an epidemic.

“After decades of fighting to reduce harm from tobacco, a new threat is emerging in our youth and Olmsted is not exempt,” said Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health Services.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of high school-age children reporting past 30-day use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent between 2017 and 2018. Use among middle school-age kids also increased nearly 50 percent.

“In the data sets we use, we have never seen use of any substance by America’s young people rise as rapidly as e-cigarette use is rising,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in December.

Over the past year, staff from Public Health have been meeting with healthcare providers, teachers, parents, and others to understand the scope of the issue locally. Those discussions, they say, confirm that the county is seeing “an unprecedented increase in youth tobacco usage.”

“We have a crisis developing in our schools with vaping and it is creating an entirely new generation of people addicted to nicotine,” Briggs said in an announcement from the county on Friday. “A change in the age for tobacco access is our best option to put a dent in this concerning trend.” 

The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed revision on April 2. If the recommendation is approved, the county would join about two dozen other Minnesota communities that have already passed laws raising the legal age to purchase tobacco.

Raising the age statewide

Meantime, at the Minnesota Legislature, a bipartisan effort to lift the tobacco age to 21 is beginning to build momentum.

State Sen. Carla Nelson, a Republican from Rochester, has introduced a series of measures that would not only raise the purchasing age for tobacco, but would also fund free quitting services and limit the use of e-cigarettes in places where smoking is already prohibited.

Speaking this week at the Capitol, Nelson noted that about 80 percent of high school students turn 18 prior to graduating. Raising the tobacco age to 21, she said, would prevent older students from purchasing tobacco products and passing them down to their younger peers.

“Protecting kids from tobacco addiction is a bipartisan goal we can all get behind,” said Nelson, the bill’s chief author.

Already, six other states — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine — have raised the tobacco age to 21.

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