Last night, both Bloomington and St. Cloud debated and voted on proposals to raise those cities’ tobacco sales age to 21. Both Councils passed the policy; however, shortly after the vote, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis announced he would veto the lifesaving measure, putting up a roadblock to implementation of the policy in Minnesota’s 10th largest city. Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of health organizations of which ClearWay Minnesota is a co-chair, supports local advocates’ efforts to override the Mayor’s veto.
Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started smoking before age 21, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Raising the minimum tobacco sale age to 21 helps prevent more young people from ever trying tobacco products and getting hooked. The National Academy of Medicine reports that there would be a 25 percent reduction in smoking initiation among 15-to-17-year-olds if the tobacco age was raised to 21.
The actions by the St. Cloud City Council and the Bloomington City Council reflect the growing momentum for increasing the tobacco age to 21. Public support for raising the age is strong: A 2015 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that three out of four American adults support the move. So far, five states and 270 communities across the country, including two others in Minnesota, have raised the tobacco sale age to 21.
In St. Cloud, the final vote was four Council Members voting in favor, with three opposed. Local advocates are considering their options to override the veto by Mayor Kleis.
In Bloomington, the final vote was six Council Members voting in favor, with none opposed. Bloomington city administrators are expected to announce the effective date for the policy soon.
“We are encouraged by the decisions of the St. Cloud and Bloomington City Councils,” said Molly Moilanen, Director of Public Affairs at ClearWay Minnesota and co-chair of the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition. “However, we are deeply disappointed in the St. Cloud Mayor’s pledge to veto this measure. Raising the tobacco age to 21 helps stop kids from trying tobacco before they can understand the long-term consequences. We support local central Minnesota public health experts, youth advocates and others in continuing the fight for raising the tobacco sale age in St. Cloud.”
During public hearings prior to the vote, local parents, youth advocates, medical professionals and public health experts urged the Councils to support raising the tobacco age to 21. A few of their remarks:
“At age 19 I lost my father to esophageal cancer,” said Giana Ballard, Bloomington resident and a volunteer for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “And that’s why I am here. The tobacco industry is in Minnesota, spending millions every year targeting kids and young people. Tobacco 21 is one way we can stand up to the tobacco industry and prevent kids from starting, from going down the road my dad did.”
Sueling Schardin, a mother and Bloomington resident who works for the American Heart Association, said, “State lawmakers are slow to act. That’s why it’s important that Bloomington leads the way for state action.”
“Last year, I researched Tobacco 21 for a school project,” said Ling Schardin, Sueling’s daughter and a sixth-grade student. “I learned how Tobacco 21 is helping prevent kids from smoking. After I told my class about Tobacco 21, we took a vote on it, and it passed.”
“As a young person, it is easy for me to understand how Tobacco 21 will prevent younger kids from smoking. This ordinance will positively impact my school community,” said Emma Roggeman, a senior at St. Cloud Technical Senior High School. “I know plenty of 18-year-olds, but no 21-year-olds. I believe that we need to make it harder for teenagers and young adults to get access to tobacco products. It’s clear- if young people don’t start smoking or using other tobacco products by the age of 21, they likely never will.”
“Each time tobacco prevention measures evolve, usage rates decline,” said Rhonda Shoberg, a St. Cloud resident, mother of three, and Clinic Services Assistant for CentraCare. “It’s time to evolve again. If it was harder for my parents they might not have ever started. My mom might not have emphysema and my dad might not have suffered and died from lung cancer.”
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation supports policies that reduce youth smoking and help end the death and disease associated with tobacco use, including raising the tobacco age to 21, limiting youth access to menthol-, candy- and fruit- flavored tobacco, keeping tobacco prices high and funding tobacco control programs.