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Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

Est. 2014

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Olmsted County raises tobacco age

Olmsted County raises tobacco age

You will soon have to be 21 to purchase tobacco in Olmsted County.

The county board voted 4-3 today to lift the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, to 21.

In doing so, Olmsted County joins 30 other communities across Minnesota that have already raised the age for buying tobacco.

The hope is that the change will make it harder for high school seniors, many of whom are 18, to purchase tobacco products and pass them down to younger students. In recent years, the emergence of e-cigarettes has begun to reverse years of steady decline in nicotine use among youth.

Statewide, e-cigarette use among youth increased nearly 50 percent in just the last three years. Olmsted County Public Health says youth who use e-cigarettes are four times as likely to smoke cigarettes.

“The current push by tobacco and vaping companies to entice youth to start nicotine dependency and/or tobacco use is unconscionable,” said Olmsted County Commissioner Stephanie Podulke.

”By targeting children well before their brains have reached maturity and understand the consequences of choices they are making, these companies create a lifetime market for their products,” she added. “Once addicted, our children then face a life-time of struggles with nicotine dependency.

Three commissioners voted against the motion — Jim Bier, Matt Flynn and Mark Thein. Speaking to us by phone this afternoon, Commissioner Thein called nicotine a “stupid habit” that he doesn’t want to see young people pick up. Still, as a former smoker himself, he remained skeptical that the new age restriction will have a measurable impact. Thein said he believes consumers who want tobacco products bad enough will just travel the additional five miles to make their purchase in a neighboring county.

“It’s obviously popular, but whether it will be effective is my issue,” he said.

The age change is set to go into effect on July 1.

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